Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Portrait of Jennie (1948), directed by William Dieterle.

Struggling painter Joseph Cotten needs inspiration, something to give his life meaning. One day he meets an odd little girl in the park, dressed in antique fashion and speaking of forgotten long-ago things.

She vanishes and reappears in his life at intervals, each time quite a bit older. "Wait for me," she says, "I'm hurrying". He begins sketching her.

Before we start worrying about Cotton falling in love with a little girl, we are comforted by the facts that (1) he is a perfect gentleman, (2) Jennie is played by the adult Jennifer Jones throughout, and (3) she moves into the adult age range pretty quickly.

But then we have a different concern: she seems to be a ghost or some sort of sending from Beyond. As their time lines link up, can he prevent the disaster that awaits her so they can be together in this life?

Young Jennie sings an eerie little tune with intimations of another plane of reality:


Where I come from nobody knows and where I am going everything goes. The wind blows, the sea flows, nobody knows. And where I am going, nobody knows.

Bernard Herrmann wrote the tune and was meant to score the film, but was fired in a clash of forceful personalities with David O. Selznick.

Ghost romance movies have been a little genre, even to the present. See The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) and Here Comes Mr Jordan (1941) from the same decade.

This is a lushly romantic entry, particularly fine in it's depiction of New York as a dream city in winter.

As with many of Selznick's projects he had an interest in serious literature, spent freely and wanted to control every aspect of production. Promoting his wife as the star was his obsession.

The film performed poorly and it ended that phase of his career. He shut down his company and afterwards collaborated with others' projects.

Ethel Barrymore has a good part as the sympathetic gallery owner, and Lillian Gish appears as a nun.

In the final scene we have the portrait hanging in a gallery:


From left to right we see:

Davis is not listed in the IMDB credits, but other online references insist that is her. I don't see the resemblance.

Lovely composition by cinematographer Joseph H. August. He tries some gimmicky effects of projecting on canvas and introducing obscuring shadows and fog; I think it would have worked as well without, but it does indeed introduce yet another eerie dimension.

Some tinting and full color is added for the final reels, and some theaters switched to "MagnaScope" for the storm sequence. As far as I can tell it is the same aspect ratio, just a different lens to expand the image onto a larger screen. There is no difference on home video.

Dimitri Tiomkin score with help by Debussy for that extra dreamy ambiance.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino with a detailed, wide-ranging commentary track.

The source for the transfer is very poor. Now and then we have scenes with a little hidef detail but it is mostly pretty grim quality.