Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

“There ought to be something timeless about a woman — something eternal.”

Shortly after selling a painting to two art curators (Cecil Kellaway and Ethel Barrymore), a penniless painter (Joseph Cotten) meets a mysterious young girl (Jennifer Jones) from another era who becomes his muse and his would-be lover.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Cecil Kellaway Films
  • Ethel Barrymore Films
  • Fantasy
  • Jennifer Jones Films
  • Joseph Cotten Films
  • Lillian Gish Films
  • Romance
  • Star-Crossed Lovers
  • William Dieterle Films

William Dieterle and David O. Selznick produced this high-budget romance, based on a novella by Robert Nathan and featuring Selznick’s wife (Jennifer Jones) in the title role. It didn’t fare well at the box office, and was dismissed by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times as “maudlin and banal”, with “a ponderous and meaningless narration” and a “soggy and saccharine musical score”; overall he found it “deficient and disappointing in the extreme”. (The CrowMan really could dish it out!) Modern viewers seem to have a more appreciative take, with Stuart Galbraith, IV of DVD Talk referring to it as an “excellent romantic fantasy” and DVD Savant similarly hailing it as a “superior fantasy”. A more accurate assessment lies somewhere in between: Dieterle handles the affair atmospherically, nicely utilizing outdoor locales in New York, building tension throughout, and leaving viewers in suspense about the finale. However, the storyline is a tad creepy (a grown man falls in love with a young girl — hmmm…..) and a bit overblown (Barrymore’s character stares balefully at Cotten from their first meeting onward, indicating she clearly knows he has unseen talents despite the fact that he shows “no love in his work”). Meanwhile, the script throws us hoary lines like “I know we were meant to be together. The strands of our lives are woven together and neither the world nor time can tear them apart.” and “There is no life, my darling, until you love and have been loved. And then there is no death.” I also find it risky when an entire film is premised on a single painting; the painting in question — viz. The Portrait of Dorian Gray (1945) — can rarely live up to its hype (though at least Laura [1945] wraps a superior mystery tale around its titular painting).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine use of outdoor locales
  • Luminous, often creative cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one-time look if this type of tale is to your liking.


One thought on “Portrait of Jennie (1948)

  1. Not must-see. For fans of this type of extreme romanticism.

    Although I wouldn’t be as harsh about it, I more or less share the opinion of the initial reviewers mentioned. It’s a bit too over-the-top for me personally.

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