Title: Portrait of Jennie
Genre: Romance, Fantasy
Director: William Dieterle
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography: Joseph H. August
A destitute artist meets his muse, but is she whether a time-traveler from the past, a ghost image deceased long ago, or simply his imaginary fairy-tale? PORTRAIT OF JENNIE is a romantic fantasy (adapted from Robert Nathan’s novel) from the less acclaimed Germany-born director William Dieterle, starring Dieterle’s longtime troupers Cotten and Jones.
It’s an ambivalent mystique, the film candidly steers clear of rendering elucidation of Jennie (Jones), we viewers gain our vicarious affections towards her through Eben’s (Cotten) blind commitment and crazed conviction. Jones comes off wonderfully through the transition from a teenage schoolgirl to a fair lady, the voice transformation is vividly convincing, also thanks to the nocturnal environment and clever lighting. During her episodic appearances in signposting Eben’s track of life, Jones incarnates herself as a genuinely cordial ingénue, the inspiration to light up Eden’s pedestrian lot, while maintaining a shade of intended coyness about her whimsical conducts to push the story-line ride on its well-premeditated trajectory (as we are multiply and passively persuaded that the ominous lighthouse will be the elephant-in-the-room concerning Jennie’s whereabouts eventually), with Cotten endearingly plays along, quite an aberrant and wayward scheme entirely contingent on viewers’ grades of naivety, perhaps that’s why it hasn’t interfaced with modern audiences too well.
Nevertheless, one can rejoice in tons of merits from this film, a poignant catharsis during a striking tidal wave, impressive special effects at its time (under the backing of green tint technique), the singular textured field on a painting canvas when introducing different chapters is a rare endeavor, and well in tune with its dainty artistry. Great chemistry between Cotten and Jones, the ultimate romance Hollywood never ceases to propagandize; the ever-refined Barrymore is a wonderful delight whenever she appears, brings fine touch to the flimsy plot with Kellaway and Wayne, plus a riddle-breaker supporting role from Lillian Gish, (admittedly it is my very first Gish film and beckons for a welcome start) and a cameo near the end with a young Nancy Reagan (in the only Technicolor shot).
PORTRAIT OF JENNIE is a charming, feel-good picture one can easily resort to repeated viewings, and preferably in a renovated Blu-Ray platform where it truly deserves to display.