Portrait of Jennie
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One of the most unusual romances ever filmed, Portrait of Jennie is the picture of sumptuousperfection. Starring Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) and OscarÂ(r) winner* Jennifer Jones (A Farewell to Arms) in a 'sensitive, appealing performance (The Hollywood Reporter), this 'tender [and] poetic (Variety) tale is enthralling from its touching beginning to its haunting conclusion. When struggling artist Eben Adams (Cotten) meets the beautiful and mysterious Jennie (Jones), he is instantly captivated. Before long, Jennie has become his great muse and he is enjoying success and bliss beyond his dreams. But there is a price to pay for such elation, and soon Eben must face the truth about who Jennie really is. *1943: Actress, The Song of Bernadette
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But, boy, what a disappointment.
The print has many scratches, flaws, imbalanced lighting ... none of which were on the MGM DVD from a few years ago. I was hoping there was some restoration or improved visuals, but instead it's the reverse. It's abundantly clear that Kino didn't have access to the other prints. In fact, I'm not sure Kino does much of anything to their releases! Their recent Duel in the Sun was equally uninspiring. As another reviewer said, hang onto your older DVDs of Portrait of Jennie. Beware.
I love the opening sequence; a resonant voice intones the opening narration as clouds part to reveal a dramatic aerial view of New York. It's a beautifully executed glass shot, a painting, and its slightly surreal quality draws us into the story. Then down at street level, we enter the world of Eben Adams, a struggling artist played by Joseph Cotton.
He visits a gallery run by Mr Matthews and Miss Spinney, played by scene-stealers, Cecil Kellaway and Ethel Barrymore. Eben's lack of inspiration is revealed when he shows Miss Spinney some of his painting, but her belief in him encourages him to go on.
Eben meets a strange young girl called Jennie in Central Park. Each time they meet she is several years older although only a week or so has elapsed. Realising that she comes from another time, Eben tracks down a number of people who help fill in the missing pieces, and when Jennie reappears, he understands the events she seems to be reliving.
Jennie becomes Eben's ghostly muse and inspires him to paint her portrait.
The film survives a few misfires, especially some over-emphatic acting by David Wayne as Eben's cab driver friend, and the Irish patrons at a pub. It is also a stretch to accept Joseph Cotton's single-minded pursuit of art despite rejection at every turn; he seems too reliable and balanced. At 43, he was also too old for the part; however, he does bring that great voice and presence to the role.
Similarly for Jennifer Jones who at 29 was required to age from twelve to late teens. But Jennifer Jones had an ethereal quality anyway, and it's what the role needed.
The actual artwork in the film is of a high quality. Often, portraits in films were simply touched up photographs; the one of Gene Tierney in "Laura" being a classic example. Not so here. Robert Brackman, an accomplished portrait painter produced the finished painting and a couple of beautiful pastel studies. The scenes of Jennie and Eben in the studio are the best in the film; it is here that the movie is at its most romantic and haunting.
The reverence paid to art and portraiture is probably the biggest element of fantasy in the film. Today, a competently rendered, representational work such as the portrait of Jennie would be a hard sell as great art, especially with the influence of all the 'isms over the decades, but the film makes us believe in its power.
The final meeting between Eben and Jennie on a rocky headland in a storm is pretty mad. Never one to leave well enough alone, Selznick urged the use of coloured filters in the last 10 minutes of the film - it didn't need them.
It's easy to see the miscalculations in "Portrait of Jennie" but this beautiful-looking film with its Debussy inspired score has atmosphere to spare. "Portrait of Jennie" is a film you don't forget - there is nothing quite like it in the world of cinema.
While we do appreciate quite a few Kino Lorber Blu ray releases (and we have quite a few), NONE of them have ANY spec of 'restoration' applied, but this release is the worst of the lot. A VERY dismal Blu ray. If you already have the MGM DVD, you may not want to bother with this release.
If any film deserves and needs a restoration job this film does. It is good beyond hope and everyone should have to see it at least once in their lives. The ultimate romantic fantasy that puts to shame lesser imitators like "Ghost" it is a spiritual and emotional experience. Definitely try to see this film just beware the Kino Blu-Ray!