In Portrait of Jennie, Joseph Cotten plays an artist, Eben Adams, who is unable to bring any true feeling to his work. While painting in Central Park one morning, Eben makes the acquaintance of a schoolgirl named Jennie (Jennifer Jones), who prattles on about things that happened years ago. Intrigued at her thorough knowledge of the past, Eben is about to converse with her further, but Jennie has vanished. Over the next few months, Eben meets Jennie again and again — and each time she seems to have aged by several years. He paints her portrait, which turns out to be more full of expression and emotion than anything he’s previously done. His curiosity peaked by Jennie’s enigmatic nature, Eben uncovers evidence that he has been conversing — and falling in love — with the ghost of a girl who died years earlier in a hurricane. On the eve of the hurricane’s anniversary, Eben rushes to meet Jennie at the site where she was supposedly killed. As a new storm rages, Jennie vanishes for good, but not before declaring that the love she and Eben have shared will live forever. Rescued from the storm, Eben convinces himself that Jennie was a mere figment of his imagination. Then he notices that he stills clutches her scarf in his hand. He looks at his portrait of Jennie (the only Technicolor shot in this otherwise black-and-white film) and understands what she meant when she said that their love would endure throughout eternity; it will do so through Cotten’s art, both the portrait at hand and all future portraits. Based on the novel by Robert Nathan, Portrait of Jennie is one of the most beautifully assembled fantasies ever presented onscreen. Producer David O. Selznick’s unerring eye for “rightness” enabled him to select the perfect stars, supporting cast (Lillian Gish, Ethel Barrymore, David Wayne, Cecil Kellaway, et al.), director, cinematographer (Joseph August), and composer (Dimitri Tiomkin, who based his themes on the works of Debussy), and blend everything into one ideally balanced package. —All Movie Guide
William Dieterle was the youngest of nine children of parents Jacob and Berthe Dieterle. They lived in poverty, and when he was old enough, William earned money as a carpenter and a scrap dealer. But he dreamed of better things. Theater caught his eye as a teen, and by the age of sixteen, he had joined a traveling theater company. He was ambitious and handsome, both of which opened the door to leading romantic roles in theater productions. Though he had acted in his first movie by 1913, not until 1919 did he move back into film. In that year, he was noticed by producer/director/designer/impresario Max Reinhardt, the most influential proponent of expressionism in theater; while in Berlin, Reinhardt hired him as an actor for his productions. Dieterle resumed German film acting in 1920, becoming a popular and successful romantic lead and featured character actor in the mix of German expressionist/Gothic and nature/romanticism genres that imbued much of the German cinema in the silent era… read more
No wonder this film was one of Buñuel's favorites. I guess Hitchcock liked it too; it could easily have been an influence on Vertigo.
After wrestling with my intellect saying it was junk, I decided to give it 5 stars. A very strange and beautiful film. Goofy voice-overs, melodramatic score and an aesthetic that lies somewhere between "Ugetsu" and "Last Year at Marienbad". I was unsure of it the whole time I watched but stayed engaged. In the end the visuals are so striking that they sell the aspects of the film I didn't much care for.