Directed by: William Dieterle (Love Letters)
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Ethel Barrymore, Cecil Kellaway, Lillian Gish
William Dieterle’s Portrait of Jennie is quite possibly the most utterly romantic movie ever made. It’s a close-to-perfect blend of stylization and unabashed romance of the fatalist and fantasy kind. With a dose of artistically textured overlays, an effective musical score (almost entirely cribbed from Debussy), a perfect cast, impeccable effects, some tinted scenes, and one Technicolor shot, there’s nothing quite like it anywhere. Portrait of Jennie tells the story of Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten), a struggling—and unformed—artist in Depression-era New York, who meets a young girl, Jennie Appleton (Jennifer Jones), in Central Park. Jennie is a strange girl who seems to be from another time, but her look provides Adams with just the inspiration he needs to unlock his true artistic calling. Stranger still, Jennie appears to be a little older each time he sees her—claiming she’s growing up in a hurry for him—but he doesn’t really suspect anything is wrong till she tells him about her parents just being killed in an accident at the theater where they perform—an accident that took place years and years earlier in a theater long since gone. All this is leading to a romance (when Jennie is 18) and a revelation that isn’t hard to guess. But guessing the revelation has nothing to do with the effectiveness of the movie.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Portrait of Jennie Tuesday, March 29, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the Asheville Film Society.