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Monday, April 04, 2016

Selznick's Imperfect Storm

Nothing Quite Like Portrait Of Jennie (1948)

This notorious Selznick flop paid off for me in ways I'd expected of Vertigo when that Hitchcock classic was seen a first time on network TV --- both tendered in a first act as ghost stories, with only Jennie following through. Was anyone else disappointed when Kim Novak's Madeleine turned out not to be the reincarnation of long-dead Carlotta? It seemed to me (at sixteen) a cheat when Vertigo yanked that rug and made it all about a murder and setting up Stewart for the fall, but youth leans to fantasy topic, preferably when spooky. Portrait Of Jennie was never meant to chill, back-from-dead Jennifer Jones a vessel for romance to Joseph Cotten's lonely artist and only incidentally not of this world. It needs critical forbearance to enjoy Jennie, the pic fragile as the story being told. I've watched it three times for every once of other Selznicks, and with each view regard goes deeper.

There could be a heck of a movie about the troubled production alone, had it been made thirty years ago when  participants were still alive. As it is, there came multiple accounts off the battlefield, most informative by Ronald Haver and David Thomson about Selznick, and Paul MacNamara on crazed publicity for the film (he reports DOS wanting to utilize Winston Churchill (!) as publicity shill for Jennie). It all began as a gentle love story, the kind Selznick always wanted to do, but couldn't for rampant elephantitis. How did his bloated operation last so long as it did? There were hits --- Gone WithThe Wind, of course, Since You Went Away, Duel In The Sun, the latter brilliantly marketed (saturation style), but oh, the losers, a one-two of which sunk Selznick's independent dream (Jennie's dire predecessor was The Paradine Case). Historians since have asked how an 86 minute black-and-white movie in 1948 could cost four million dollars. Anyone writing Selznick checks during the fiasco could tell us, and fortunately for the record, some did.

Among nutty, but intriguing ideas, was someone's notion to let Shirley Temple be Jennie and shoot the movie over a seven or so year period so we see Jennie's growth from child-woman to woman-child. That was too long-term investment even for big spender Selznick, and besides, he didn't think ST could deliver. Could Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier have clicked in the Jennifer Jones/Joseph Cotten leads? We'll not know, but that possibility got serious thought. Modern psychiatry might divine what drove Selznick; was it simple OCD? (as if that could be called simple) A right prescription that would fix him today may have come at expense of great shows made then, despite excesses. I've regretted before the fact that Selznick's backlog got split off to disparate owners, some of it gone to PD tar pits (Little Lord Fauntleroy, Nothing Sacred, A Star Is Born). What a package the intact library would make for revival and HD broadcast/streaming. As it is, you'd have to go a half-dozen places to program the lot.

Where do I begin to extol Jennie's virtues? First, there's location filming in Gotham, a decided plus that came at dear expense, but what marvelous effect they got. Director William Dieterle might take largest credit for this, though insider Paul MacNamara wrote that Dieterle was replaced halfway through production, this a new one on me and not otherwise reported in histories. So who stepped in to finish Portrait Of Jennie? We know Selznick used directors like tissue paper. How many were involved here? There is ice skating in Central Park, breathtaking winter cityscapes, and yes, process work re-doing some of it to Selznick displeasure, but even that patchwork allures, just for insight it gives to tortured efforts finishing the show. We do need patience going in, there being no credits, but droning narration and post-it quotes from Keats and Euripides to assure us something important is about to happen. Such pretension drove movies then, at least ones with ambition as Portrait Of Jennie developed.

The story takes place in the 30's. We're told it actually happened, that made believable by a color epilogue where gallery-goers examine the finished portrait. Joe Cotten is a hard-times artist who meets ten-year old Jennie in the snow, a feat pulled off by having J. Jones walk alongside him in a trench to convey height difference, a variant on device used with Alan Ladd and his leading ladies. Jennie as in Jennifer was a strapping 5' 7" and daunting match to diminutive partners she sometimes drew. The growing process is believable, Jones actress enough for a job few (any?) peers could have handled so well. That's a matter of opinion, of course. Some find JJ unbearably twitchy, especially in neurotic parts she'd do later, but considering traumas happening off-camera during Jennie, her perf seems all the more Academy-worthy.

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A fascinating aspect beyond Jennie's spectral presence is the spirit of departed vaudeville that pervades the film. Hammerstein's Victoria is locus of long-ago tragedy that claimed Jennie's high-wire parents, the site demolished years ago, says Cotten repeatedly, as though he were speaking of Revolutionary War incident. Fact is, Hammerstein's was leveled in 1915, less than two decades before Portrait Of Jennie takes place, but twenty years was a long time then, a third of many folks' life span, so who's to wonder at such passage of time being regarded an eternity? There's a wonderful scene where Cotten goes to see a vet stagehand at Hammerstein's successor house, the Rialto, self-same venue that would host many a monster during later 30's and 40's exploitation boom. Dialogue is spoke against background of a Mickey Mouse cartoon, the old man recalling vaude past in terms of ancient history. Here was show biz tradition admittedly on last legs as of the 30's, and all the more so by 1948, but did Hollywood have to be so eager to bury it?

Paul MacNamara tells a harrowing story of Jennie's premiere in New York, followed by Selznick's withdrawal of the film to re-do the finish. His idea was to create a storm at sea to rival disasters staged in silent days, "a real Griffith climax." This was where Portrait Of Jennie truly went off rails; spending already beyond what could be got back was now headed toward a level that would break the studio. I'd have liked being at the re-premiere, with its expanding screen and "Cylophonic" sound. Wonder how much the storm added to negative costs. MacNamara says DOS couldn't be talked out of the folly, despite effort by all his staff. They had figured Portrait Of Jennie for a bust all along, and were right: it earned $1.5 million. Selznick wouldn't make another movie in America. Fall-out from Portrait Of Jennie, his mad takeover of its every aspect and ongoing affront to reason, was approximated by the Kirk Douglas character in 1952's The Bad and The Beautiful. Jonathon Shields, the film's fictitious mogul, ruins his last big project with constant interference and obsessive re-shooting. Parallels with Selznick could not have been missed by industry viewers or column readership who followed news of Jennie's ordeal.


Blogger Dave K said...

Am surprised nobody has commented on this. Always thought this one a little screwy (in a good way I guess) but I used to think the world full of people who ranked it as their all time favorite!

5:09 PM  
Blogger iarla said...

I have that still of Jones and Cotten in the field by the tree - always pegged it from "Love Letters".

9:03 PM  
Blogger fairmn said...

With this recommendation from Greenbrier, will have to see this movie again. Over-the-top production values as shown here is equivalent to accessorizing the old Buick with chrome add-ons everywhere it can be bolted down. Hard not to read this project as DOS’ personal, quirky, kindhearted and sometimes awkward valentine to enjoying companionship of younger and attractive J Jones, a woman from another generation; an experience which in his heart of hearts he knew was uncommon and probably undeserved.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who continues to find Portrait of Jennie, a flawed but fascinating classic. Possibly, it's the passing years that have reinforced the haunting and otherworldly atmosphere of the film. Thanks for re-visiting it and here's hoping it will see a Blu-ray version, soon.

BTW, just finished your SHOWMEN, SELL IT HOT! As a child of the 50s, raised by an "Exhibitor", I experienced that world first-hand and still recall my father's energetic and imaginative efforts at ballyhoo. Wonderful book!

1:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares memories of a very special "Portrait Of Jennie" screening (Part One):

I actually was sore tempted to post or write something to you re: "Portrait of Jennie", a great favorite of mine which the usual Selznick-ian overkill failed (IMO at least) to destroy, and may even have enhanced...uh, to a point! BUT...I had a nagging feeling that with as many of my 'film friends' as I've abused with REPEAT recitals of seeing "...Jennie" on a big screen at LACMA (Los Angeles Museum of Art) in or around 1970 or '71, which was one of the late, 'great' Ron Haver's presentations there while he was curator (and, while he was ALIVE, as sadly he was one of a legion of people leveled by AIDS, later down the road), which included a damn good attempt at simulating that last reel expansion trick Selznick imagined for the film, Magnascope or whatever it was called. The screening was attended by the almost living legend name, William Dieterle, and I THINK his amanuensis, as it were, Peter Berneis, whose name actually appears on screen in many of his movies going 'way back. At any rate, there was another bilingual German there in his small coterie after the screening who took down some information on his behalf that I had to impart about Bernard Herrmann, who was still living in L.A. at that time (though not for long.) I knew Herrmann never ceased admiring Dieterle's attention to the musical aspect of "The Devil and Daniel Webster", his only collaboration with the director. I found out that evening that Dieterle's admiration for Herrmann was also strong, and he was actually very interested to learn that Herrmann was still alive in the city. Dieterle had come in from Germany, I believe---perhaps not only to attend this screening! But, I never knew how Ron Haver arranged for some of the impressive film personalities who often attended his programs to know about them and attend them. Including this one. This was the first time I ever saw a great old Hollywood film shown in a real theater, and from a fine-quality print. It even had the tinted final reel (which of course was entirely in Technicolor!---except it was tinted a truly eerie green for the final encounter of Eben and Jennie; then, it segued to a kind of sepia for the final scenes, until the truly breathtaking insertion of full Technicolor for the otherwise rather disappointing actual oil painting of Jennifer Jones---which didn't look remotely LIKE Jennifer Jones!---at the very end.

9:59 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

The movie also has the striking benefits of GREAT, magical cinematography by the master, Joe August (his last credit I believe), as well as the remainder of an aborted score by Bernard Herrmann: "Jennie's Song", nicely sung in a deliberately childlike way by Jennifer Jones, herself. And, though I would love to imagine what Herrmann would have done with the movie all the way through, it was of course Selznick's midstream 'inspiration' to score the picture with piano pieces by Debussy, orchestrated and arranged by Dimitri Tiomkin. I don't know if he thought of Tiomkin automatically in context with his little inspiration, or if the Russian immigrant just got it by default, having previously done such a bang-up job on "Duel in the Sun". And, of course, film music nuts like me know that Tiomkin never did ANY of his scores by himself, a la Benny Herrmann. When you hired Tiomkin, you also hired a committee of arrangers and orchestrators, sometimes as many as three, four, five or six! And for all I know, some of them may have 'ghost written' some of his scores. That said, I sense continuity in his film scores and his marvelous melodies and harmonies, and I'd PREFER to believe that he was the essential center component of his credited scores and songs. He naturally caught hell, as he was fated to do, for having the nerve, etc, etc, to debase Debussy with his 'vulgar' arrangements, and such-like put-downs from self-appointed aestheticians who otherwise hacked out film reviews. Very, very easy target, and very knee-jerk. I know the originals (the piano works) Tiomkin utilized. I love Debussy and I play these pieces frequently on my piano here at home---VERY badly, I confess. It's my feeling that Tiomkin could not possibly have used these pieces "as is". He HAD to "arrange" them---to extend them, to re-compose them to some extent---to serve the needs of a film, in the basic conventions of film scoring in the 1940s. And, another 'given' is that they would not be played on a piano, throughout! So, the orchestrations (not done by Tiomkin, and hardly EVER done by Tiomkin for his film scores, and he wasn't alone in this area) were extremely adroit and lovely, I thought, appropriate in every instance to the implicit mood of the pieces. Debussy arranged, or rather, orchestrated all of his own orchestral scores himself (e.g., his famous tone poem "La Mer", The Sea.) So orchestrators would have known fairly well how he 'might' have done it himself, when orchestrating Tiomkin's clever patchwork score. For me? The moment when the editor reveals 'the portrait of Jennie' at the very end, in blazing Technicolor, fully HALF if not more of the emotional impact is the sudden effusion of Tiomkin's marvelous quotation of a particular phrase from Debussy's heartbreakingly beautiful piano piece "La Fille aux Cheveaux Lin" (probably misspelled, as I am half-assed in French), or, "The Girl With the Flaxen Hair", which is as poignant and moving a tribute to feminine grace and beauty as was ever invented by any artist. If this is vulgarity, I like it.

Look, I'm talking about the whole thing all over again! I can't help myself. Well...I might as well also throw in the final fact, that Dana Andrews also showed up for this, without fanfare, without being announced from the stage by Haver, probably because he attended it just like any other member of the general public. I can still see him standing in the foyer afterwards, smiling, his head bobbing from side to side as he waited for an opportunity to lock eyes with Dieterle, probably just to say hi. Andrews was not terribly tall. Dieterle, on the other hand, was VERY tall! I'm about 6' and a fraction over, and I had to look UP to the old man when I finally met him outside the building. I literally caught him as he and his party were on their way to the parking lot, I think!

10:01 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers "Portrait Of Jennie" (Part One):

Portrait of Jennie

One summer many years ago, the ABC television network offered a number of films produced by David O. Selznick, including “Intermezzo,” “Made for Other,” and “The Spiral Staircase.” Another was “Portrait of Jennie,” from the fantasy written by Robert Nathan. The Philadelphia Inquirer used the rotogravure process for its inserts then, and its television listings for the week that “Portrait of Jennie” was shown featured a stunning color photographic portrait of Jennifer Jones, the star of the film, from around the time it was made. She was wearing an embroidered peasant blouse and a full, pleated skirt, and her lovely, heart-shaped face, with those large, hazel eyes and apple cheeks, was framed in a cascade of wavy chestnut hair that fell to her shoulders.

This picture captured the girlish quality she would possess even into her thirties, a quality well-suited for a role in which her character would age from a young girl perhaps ten years of age to a young woman.There was another quality the actress had which would be more apparent in pictures taken at the rate of 24 frames per second, a certain nascent yearning which could not find resolution. It was like the taut string of a musical instrument, stretching through her life as well as the parts she played, distracting sometimes but upon which music of surpassing beauty could sometimes be played.

As for “Portrait of Jennie,” the story is about Eben Adams, a struggling artist who meets a young girl one evening, oddly dressed in old-fashioned clothes and speaking of the things of another time. She tells him her name, Jennie Appleton, also that her parents are appearing in a vaudeville act at Hammerstein’s. He’s unaccountably taken with this fey creature, but when they part, he has no expectation of ever seeing her again. His own prospects are far from promising. Until then, his work had been pedestrian and uninspired. The truth was that he was desperately afraid, not least of opening his heart. After that evening, however, he did a sketch of the little girl, lest he forget her, and a gallery, discovering it among the landscapes they had no use for, was immediately intrigued and enchanted by it. Something had happened that evening and nothing would ever again be the same for him.

When Jennie went away, she said that she didn’t suppose that he could wait for her. Vaguely, he seemed to remember that Hammerstein’s had been torn down years ago. Over the next few months, however, they began meeting from time to time, always by chance, though he began to realize that there really aren’t any accidents in life. What intrigued him was that she seemed to be growing older much more quickly than could be possible. When he mentioned it, she simply said that she was trying to catch up with him. As she passed from adolescence into her young womanhood, he realized that he was falling in love with her. His heart, which had been closed for so long, now opened, and with it the talent that had remained hidden for so long. She sat for her portrait by him, the masterpiece that had waited until this very time to be created. It would make his name famous throughout the world, but that was yet to come. On the evening he finished it, she disappeared again, perhaps forever.

8:17 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Dan Mercer:

Such a fragile,wistful story would seem to have had only tenuous commercial prospects, at best, and was doomed to the failure it would suffer. That wasn’t entirely so, however. There had been a number of pictures made in the years before that dealt with ghosts or the supernatural, or with enchantment, such as “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” “The Canterville Ghost,” “A Guy Named Joe,” “The Enchanted Cottage,” “The Uninvited,””Love Letters,” “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” There had been a time when the supernatural, if it figured in any non-religious film, was no more than a trick or illusion, to be revealed as a device used by the devious to gull and mislead. There were exceptions—of these, “Peter Ibbetsen” was the best realized—but even the fantasy and horror films then were almost always about science gone mad or moral deviancy, with the extraordinary merely a stage for the existential drama taking place on it. There had been years of war since then, and with the death lists and the maimed and disfigured returning home, there was a need to believe that the human personality could survive bodily death, and that there was a healing power in love.

“Portrait of Jennie” took in $1,150,000 at the box office in its initial release, a solid return and one that should have meant a decent profit, even with the inefficiencies of Selznick’s own Selznick Releasing Organization. He’d invested an incredible $4,010,000 to make it, however, which meant that it could have been profitable only if it had been one of the most popular movies ever made, a very unlikely prospect for such a subject. This massive loss virtually ended his career as a filmmaker.What could have possessed him to do this? How could the man behind such moneymakers as “Gone With the Wind,” “Rebecca,” “A Star is Born,” “Since You Went Away,” and “Spellbound” have so drastically miscalculated?

I should say that it reflected the final collapse of a man who had been overdrawing himself for years. The obsessive control he exercised over his productions, constantly going over every detail of a project and cajoling his talent with gargantuan memoranda required superhuman strength, when he was, after all, only a man. The drugs he took provided him with the energy he needed, but at a price. Gradually and then suddenly, his sense of balance and discretion were eroded and used up. By the time he made “Portrait of Jennie,” this controlling man was out of control.

There was perhaps another reason as well. His obsessions gradually extended to Jennifer Jones,the young actress who was under contract to him and had appeared “Song of Bernadette” for 20th Century-Fox. She was married with children, but he wanted her for himself. The husband, Robert Walker, was shunted aside even as he co-starred with his wife in a Selznick production, “Since You Went Away,” his soldier-boy lover dying on the screen while his marriage was being murdered off of it. Such was Selznick’s status and charisma that Miss Jones herself could not resist his blandishments, or the infatuation that comes with the knowledge that such a man of power and influence wanted her.

8:18 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Dan Mercer:

The sexual aspect of this desire found expression in “Duel in the Sun.” Ostensibly, it was Selznick’s attempt to make an epic that would top “Gone With the Wind” as a popular success. Gradually, however, its purpose seemed to be the taking of an actress who portrayed Bernadette of Lourdes and ravishing and despoiling her.The pale, ethereal Bernadette became the dusky wanton, Pearl Chavez, the focal point in a Cain and Abel story of the Old West, a Technicolor extravaganza that is sometimes appalling in its stupidities but never less than fascinating.There are stories, though, of Selznick sitting in the screening room, breathing heavily as he watched rushes of Jennifer endlessly dragging her vivid, bleeding body across rocks and cacti. He destroyed her marriage and his own to have her, and he wanted her, and he couldn’t have enough of her.

Lust consumes and is consumed. What does one do with its remnants, however? A man doesn’t marry for carnality alone. He’d despoiled Bernadotte of Lourdes. Perhaps he could redeem her purity in Jennie Appleton. Perhaps the object of his obsession now and the reason for his extravagance, was to wash away the blood of Pearl Chavez and reveal in the fragile Jennie the Jennifer he loved and would make his wife.

“Portrait of Jennie” benefits from these extravagances, especially in the location photography by cinematographer Joseph August on the New England coast or in New York City. In particular, there is a scene filmed during the winter in Central Park, where the use of natural light and long perspectives create effects which could never have been duplicated in the studio. The broad glistening ice of the skating pond reaches to the trees along its edge, while beyond are the shapes of tall buildings silhouetted against the sun. Jennie Appleton suddenly appears out of the mist covering the pond. The shot is very close and the camera angle low, as though she had descended from some high place to our immediate present, and a sense is created that this nexus between one world and the next is a tangible one.

The talent assembled was also extraordinary for so wistful a story. Besides Joseph August,there was the director, William Dieterle, who’d won an Academy Award for “The Story of Louis Pasteur” and also made such classic films as “The Last Flight,”“The Life of Emile Zola,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” and “Love Letters.” The screenplay was written by Paul Osborn, later a Tony award winner, from an adaptation of Robert Nathan’s story by Leonardo Bercovici. They would be kept busy, as Selznick demanded re-write after re-write, never entirely satisfied but compelled at last to begin filming.

Bernard Hermann,who did the superb score for Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” was the assigned composer, but he left the production during its extended shooting schedule. The excellent Dimitri Tiomkin took over, using themes by Claude Debussy, including“Pelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune,” and a song Hermann composed, “Jennie’s Theme,” based on a lyric from Nathan’s story, “Where I came from, nobody knows,and where I am going, everyone goes.” It was a most effective score, the evocations by the Debussy themes of a sylvan paradise perfectly suited for the story of a young girl who remembers things from long ago, or which had not yet happened.

8:19 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Four from Dan Mercer:

The cast was especially well chosen. Orson Welles said that his friend, Joseph Cotten, was the funniest man he ever knew, but at this stage in his career, Cotten usually portrayed sensitive romantics, often in affairs that were doomed to remain unrequited. For Selznick, he’d already portrayed Claudette Colbert’s admirer in“Since You Went Away”—“Never change,” she tells him, thus condemning him to love her always, but only from afar—and a soldier falling in love with Jennifer Jones’ amnesiac in “Love Letters.” Here he would be Eben Alexander, in another doomed love affair. There was also Ethel Barrymore, of the legendary Barrymore family, whose stillness suggested a great depth of heart, Cecil Kellaway, a wise and warm character actor, the Broadway star David Wayne, making his film debut, and Lillian Gish, the great star for D. W. Griffith in such silent films as “Birth of a Nation” and “Broken Blossoms,” as the Mother Superior who remembers Jennie Appleton and is herself a nexus between this world and the next.

Much of the budgetallocated to “Portrait of Jennie,” however, was simply spent accommodating Selznick’s indecision. The screenplay would be festooned with pages of many colors, for this re-write or that, the talent languishing while the cameras waited to run.When filming finally began, he found himself dissatisfied with the results and had much of it done again. The ending, too, was done over several times, nothing ever seeming to bring the story to the cathartic conclusion he was searching for. In the Nathan story, Eben and Jenny meet along a beach during a storm which overwhelms them. Later he learns that Jennie had been returning from her studies in Europe on an ocean liner, and that she’d been swept overboard during a hurricane. This finally served as the basis of the penultimate ending, the lovers meeting one last time at an isolated light house at Land’s End, as time and space is seemingly rent apart by the awful fury of the great storm. The film had already been released when it was recalled to have the final revised ending appended to it. When was made available once more, this scene was tinted green and a special projection process used to double the size of the image.

There is a question as to how many theaters actually employed the process, though it was used in New York showings, where New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was no more impressed by it than by the film itself. Certainly it was ill-matched with the gentleness of the scenes preceding it or with the intentions of Robert Nathan, almost as though Selznick himself had been overwhelmed by the realization of all that had been invested into this project, and the fear that it could be redeemed only by something which demonstrated its importance. That it came into being after the film was initially released is yet another indication of how out of control he’d become, doing something out of some pressing need of the moment, only to realize a moment later how embarrassingly mistaken it had been.

The very last scene featured a portrait of Jennifer Jones in character, the portrait of Jennie itself, painted by the noted American artist, Robert Brackman. It was filmed in the Technicolor process, which meant that this snippet of celluloid had to be spliced into hundreds of prints, since it couldn’t be printed together with the black-and-white footage. This was yet another expensive addition to a film which had become increasingly complex and costly, though one could hardly fault its beauty or dramatic validity.

8:20 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Five from Dan Mercer:

When Selznick began the project, the radio show, “Academy Award,” offered an adaptation of“Portrait of Jennie,” at the end of which was announced the forthcoming Selznick Studio production of the story. This was in December, 1946. Filming would not begin until May, 1947, however, and would not be completed until October of the following year, with the storm scene. The final version of the film was released in December, 1948, more than a year and a half behind schedule.

It was perhaps the delays and indecision that resulted in a film that was so different from others made at the time: somewhat didactic, rarely taking the expected approach, and always seeming to reach for something seemingly just out of reach. Some of the choices improved upon the original. In the Nathan story, for example, many people see Jennie Appleton while she is with Eben, including Eben’s landlady,who chastises them for what she takes to be a sexual affair. When Eben attempts to apologize to Jennie, she cries that it has been said and can never be unsaid again. In the film, however, while there are those who remember Jennie, none sees her but Eben. It is as though he had become the medium through which she enters this world. The others know of her, but only through what he says or what they see, in his work. The portrait of Jennie is really a picture of what was seen in his own heart and what had blossomed there.

In the end, of course, the portrait of Jennie is really a portrait of Jennifer Jones’performance. Though the character is but briefly seen, it is central to the story and all the rest is context. In this regard, the picture frames what must be regarded as a tour-de-force by her. She goes from a waif to a teenager, the young woman whose portrait is painted, and the would-be lover, torn from Eben’s arms at Land’s End. A rather tall and slender woman, her physical stature had to be cunningly disguised in the early scenes through such devices as ramps or special camera angles, but none of that was necessary for the appealing child she portrayed. Her Bernadette had been plaintive and resigned until drawn up by the ecstasy of her visions. In contrast, the young Jennie is gay and beguiling,with an often breathless quality to her voice, as though she had hurried from along way off to be where she was. As a device, this last had a model in Joan Fontaine’s performance in the “Academy Award” radio adaptation. A superb radio performer as well as a film actress, Miss Fontaine had brought the same quality to her characterization. While the technique was not original, then, its use by Miss Jones was nonetheless most effective.

It is as she progresses towards the adolescent and the woman she would become, however, that her performance is most poignant, and certainly one that would have captivated a young man such as myself, whose own love life was essentially the stuff of fantasy. There was an ethereal quality to it, a conscious reaching out from some other place towards something almost impossible of realization. Everything passes away, be it conversations which begin and end or the light of morning, which fades into the dusk. They are little deaths, all, for what was here is gone. And yet in all that changes,there is a residue from the past which finds expression in tomorrow.

In this way would a Jennie Appleton hold on past hope or sorrow to something which was and will be again. We know this thing, inviolate, as love, to which all must be given, if one is to live, and to speak of it, even when the words must cast upon the silence. It was in her ability to convey this awful, melancholic truth that Jennifer Jones brings a strange music to her performance. There is a resonance to it even now.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Tbone Mankini said...

Turned up on UK TV last year, so caught it totally by chance...and had pretty much lost all memory of... and I thoroughly enjoyed it as a piece of film making so offbeat for its time... the golden years of the slightly ghostly romance....

2:18 PM  

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