The 1948 fantasy classic is now available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.
A struggling artist meets a young girl in a park and the mystery of Portrait of Jennie begins. After a bizarre introduction which throws out quotes from a philosopher and a poet (the voice is uncredited, but sounded to me like William Forrest, a character actor who appears in Miracle on 34th Street), Joseph Cotten, who plays the artist, takes over the narration. As painter Eben Adams, he is barely getting by, until a sympathetic gallery owner (Ethel Barrymore) buys a picture of flowers and instructs him to create work he is passionate about.
Adams wanders through Central Park at night and runs into a girl in a sailor outfit — her dress being our first hint that her character’s chronology may be different from his. Months for Adams mean years for Jennie (Jennifer Jones), who yearns to be old enough to be with Eben and have him paint her. Yes, there is a slightly icky factor of the artist becoming obsessed and attracted to a pre-teen girl, even if an adult actress is playing the role.
“The strands of our lives are woven together,” Jennie as a young woman confides to Eben during a later clandestine meeting. Cotten and Jones don’t have the strongest on-screen chemistry… though perhaps the creepy age difference between the characters affected my viewing experience. Their mysterious connection beyond time comes to a sort of resolution, although there is much left unexplained.
The romantic fantasy uses eerie lighting, unusual visual effects (such as shooting film through canvas to make the imagery appear more like a painting), and even green-tinted frames at the denouement. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score — which borrows from Debussy’s impressionist composition La Mer — adds to the sublime nature of the film.
There’s something of the intangible about Portrait of Jennie. The new Kino Lorber release makes do with a print that tends towards fuzzy at times, but the visuals and cinematography still impress.
Special features in this new Blu-Ray release:
- Audio commentary from film historian Troy Howarth (a tad heavy on dates and facts, but includes some analysis as well)
- Trailers for Portrait of Jennie and a few other upcoming classic releases from Kino Lorber