Portrait of Jennie (1948): The Transformative Power of Art

Weary artist Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is struggling to make ends meet. When a chance meeting with a curious young girl, Jennie Appleton (Jennifer Jones), stirs Eben’s creative juices, he begins again on a successful path. Encouraged by a friend and dealer, Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore), Eben continues to see Jennie and notices that each time they meet she is years older. He also notices how she talks about things that happened in the past. As their meetings continue, Jennie grows older, and the two fall in love. They realize their lives are intertwined although time and space conspire to keep them apart.

A fantasy picture was a strange choice for Selznick International Pictures to produce, but nonetheless they secured the costs at a low price and went to work at adapting Robert Nathan’s novella for the big screen. Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were considered for the leading roles before Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten were chosen.

I have yet to be let down by a performance by Joseph Cotten. As Eben Adams, Cotten is sensitive, vulnerable and believable as the man who fell in love with a woman from the past and will do anything in his power to be with her. Cotten plays his scenes with utmost sincerity, especially the scene with Mother Mary (Lillan Gish) at the convent.

Jennifer Jones delivers as the girl who is mysteriously tied to the past while still being firmly rooted in the present. Jones has the girlish quality that is well suited for Jennie, and as the film says has “big, sad eyes, and something about her that seemed to come from far away.” It must not have been easy acting as a little girl when she was almost 30 but Jones accomplishes it well; however, when she transitions to womanhood, this is where Jones really shines. The delivery of her lines about life, love, and the future are mesmerizing.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin had the inspired idea of using themes from Claude Debussy for the film’s score. Debussy’s music captures the desperation of a struggling artist, the joyful vitality of childish Jennie, the mysterious, enigmatic quality she possesses, and the longing the lovers have for each other. The song Jennie sings when she meets Eben: “Where I came from, nobody knows, and where I am going everyone goes” was written by Bernard Herrmann, the original choice for composing the film.

Always intent on high quality, Selznick’s decision to shoot in New York City added a realness to the film (a wise choice, as New York has a distinct atmospheric flavor) as well as considerable production costs. The Oscar winning special effects used in the ending of the film are striking, unexpected, and ultimately drove the film way over its budget. According to Selznick biographer David Thomson, Portrait of Jennie was the last film Selznick produced in Hollywood. Although it was not well received on its release, the film has gained appreciation over the years, and is one of Jennifer Jones’ most memorable roles.

Portrait of Jennie is equally about love and the transformative power of art. Eben’s love for Jennie gives him new eyes to see the beauty in the world, transforming his work as an artist and more importantly, as a human being.

There has never been and probably will never be another movie quite like Portrait of Jennie. In a manner similar to The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), this film seamlessly blends the supernatural with reality, the dream world with the real world, and the past with the present. So tastefully done in its execution, the end result is far from saccharine, nor is it excessive. And what has the makings of a sad story is anything but when one looks carefully at the themes contained within. Reflective and romantic, Portrait of Jennie hits all the right notes and is a gem among many in the classic film treasury.

That just barely skims the surface of this beautiful, haunting film. Time and space (see what I did there?) 😉 prevents me from covering all the wonderful character actors involved and going deeper in analysis. I intend to cover that in a future post.

What do you think of Portrait of Jennie?

This post is my contribution to The Leap Year Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room. Thank you for letting me participate in this event! Click here to read the other timely contributions!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

The Greatness of Gilda (1946)

What is it about Gilda that makes people return for viewing after viewing? That question had been burning in my mind for a while. You see, a family member of mine would watch this film on repeat. Though at the time I was unable to join them, my intrigue still remained.

Today, I want to share with you what I love about Gilda and my observations while viewing the film in hopes of decoding the mystery from long ago.

the spicy dialogue and one-liners

Image: Public Domain

Wow, is this film chock full of ’em! Ever been bored to death while watching a film and wishing the screenwriters were actually awake when doing their job? Yep, been there done that. Gilda keeps ya going all the way through with double entendres flying through the air. The script is full of spicy repartee, saucy comebacks, and biting sarcasm.

Some of my favorites:

  • “Pardon me, but your husband is showing.”
  • “Oh, I’m sorry, Johnny is such a hard name to remember, and so easy to forget.”
  • “Well, here’s the laundry waiting to be picked up.”

the red hot sizzling chemistry between the leads

Image: Pinterest

Get ready to clear the fog off the windows because this might just be the steamiest movie you’ve seen! Gilda (Rita Hayworth) and Johnny (Glenn Ford) have a love-hate relationship that absolutely smolders with tumultuous passion. It’s clearly painted across Johnny’s face how much he fights between his painful desire and seething hatred for Gilda, and she in turn tantalizes him every chance she can get. The more Johnny resists, the more Gilda’s fuel is fired.

You could cut the tension between them with a knife, but who wants to do that, it’s too much fun to watch.

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uncle pio

Amongst the complex characters who are blinded by their own hate, anger, lust, and greed is Uncle Pio (Steven Geray) – the kind and goodly washroom attendant. He seems to be the only one who can see straight in the smoke ridden casino and offers the two leads what they need most. To Johnny he imparts words of wisdom and to Gilda he offers his friendship and understanding. Uncle Pio calls Gilda “the beautiful one” and “the little one.” Enough said, the guy is adorable and plays a pretty important part in the film’s ending.

the glamour

Image: Pinterest

Gilda is a beautiful film. Each scene positively reeks with glamour and the sets are decked out to the nines. I love the marble, grand staircase in Gilda’s home, the gates outside her home, and the swirling and leaf motifs in the casino. As for the costumes? They were designed by the amazing Jean Louis and fit the bill perfectly.

Image: Pinterest

The cinematography by Rudolph Mate is both stunning and clever. He places characters almost entirely in silhouette, uses creative camera movements, and utilizes soft lighting to give the film its distinct look.

carnival

Who doesn’t love a costume party? With the setting for Gilda being in Argentina, we get the added treat of the characters celebrating Carnival. Like a siren’s call, the music from the streets beckon to Gilda to let go of her hate and embrace her feelings for Johnny. After all, the meaning behind Carnival is to sow your wild oats, and then to reap the consequences. This marks a turning point as Carnival casts its spell over Gilda, leading to one of the most exciting scenes in the film.

rita hayworth

Image: Imdb

The heart and soul of Gilda is Rita Hayworth. Her femme fatale is beautiful, fiery, and spellbinding; yet she makes Gilda believable and relatable, not a woman on a pedestal to be worshipped and treated as a prize possession, but as a woman who needs love and care just as the rest of humanity. I’m reminded of Rita Hayworth’s quote:

“All I wanted was just what everybody else wants, you know, to be loved.”

In Gilda, I believe Rita laid out her raw emotions on the screen, making her performance moving, powerful, and unforgettable.

Image: Pinterest

It is true that Gilda isn’t a perfect film, nor does it need to be. The film raises more questions than it answers, and perhaps that’s part of the allure.

Ripe with interesting and duplicitous characters, an exotic setting, and the production values that one expects when watching a film from the golden era, Gilda is an escape into a world where the dark shadows are always present, the fabulous femme fatale keeps you guessing, and the guy who falls for her is tied up with some rather shady characters while having demons of his own to conquer.

Sound like every other noir you’ve seen? Probably, but I assure you, none have done it quite like Gilda.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!