Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Selznick Release (Vanguard Production)

Based on the novel by Robert Nathan, “Portrait of Jennie” is one of the most handsomely produced romantic fantasies, lagely due to producer David O. Selznick's passion for the project and obsession to make his wife Jennifer Jones a major Hollywood star.

In the supremely-mounted melodrama, Joseph Cotten plays Eben Adams, an artist who suffers from creatie block—he’s unable to bring true feeling to his work.

One day, while painting in New York’s Central Park Eben meets a schoolgirl named Jennie Appleton (Jennifer Jones), who relates various events of her past.

Considering her young age and seeming naivete, Adams becomes intrigued at her thorough knowledge of the past.  The middle-aged man is about to converse with her, when, suddenly, she disappears.

By now Adams is obsessed and thus, over the next months, he goes to the park to meet Jennie. Problem is, each time she looks slightly different—she seems to have aged by several years.

Adam throws himself with passion and conviction into painting Jennie’s portrait, which turns out to be more expressive and impressive than his former work.

Jennie's enigmatic nature continues to intrigue him and he begins to search and uncover all kinds of “facts” about her life.

In the end, it turns out that Adams has fallen in love with the ghost of a girl who died years earlier in a brutal hurricane, strikingly mounted by standards of the time.

On the eve of the hurricane's anniversary, Eben rushes to meet Jennie at the site where she was  killed. A new storm rages, and Jennie vanishes for good, but not before declaring the eternity of their love.

Rescued from the storm, Adams concludes that Jennie was a figment of his imagination, only to realize that he’s stills holding firmly her scarf in his hand.

He looks at his portrait of Jennie (shot in Technicolor in otherwise black-and-white film) and understands what she meant when she said that their love would endure forever.

The movie is narrated by Adam’s voice over, which both links the various episodes and comments on them from his subjective POV.

Playing Jennie in her various ages and life phases, Oscar-winner Jennifer (“The Song of Bernadette”) Jones gives a creditable performance.

The supporting cast includes two grand dames: silent star Lillian Gish and Broadway legend Ethel Barrymore.

Also in the ensemble are David Wayne, Cecil Kellaway, and Florence Bates (who gave a shining performance in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” as Joan Fontain chaperone).

Production values are polished in every department: Cinematography (Joseph August), music (by composer Dimitri Tiomkin, who based his themes on the works of Debussy), and, above al, sensitive direction by William Dieterle.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Cinematography: Joseph August

Special Effects: Visuals by Paul Eagler, J. McMillan Johnson, Russell Shearman, and Clarence Slifter; sound by Charles Freeman and James G. Stewart.

Oscar Awards: 1

Special Effects

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Cinematography Oscar was William Daniels for the noir drama, “The Naked City.”

RatingL PG-13.

Running time: 86 Minutes.

Directed by William Dieterle

Screenplay (Adapted) bu Paul Osborn

DVD: November 28, 2000


Joseph Cotten as Eben Adams

Jennifer Jones as Jennie Appleton

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Spinney

David Wayne as Gus O'Toole

Lillian Gish as Mother Mary of Mercy

Florence Bates as Mrs. Jekes the Landlady