Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Gish
Written by: Leonardo Bercovici, Paul Osborn, Peter Berneis, based on the novel by Robert Nathan
Directed by: William Dieterle
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 86
Date: 12/25/1948

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Picture Perfect

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Portrait of Jennie was a David O. Selznick super-production, and one of his failed follow-ups to his Gone with the Wind (1939). Selznick made Portrait of Jennie for Jennifer Jones, an actress he had fallen in love with and tried to make a star out of. He tinkered with the film for an entire year, making sure its complicated special effects were perfect. Though the film is in black and white, the final reel is presented in various tints and, finally, full-fledged Technicolor (for the shot of the finished painting). His efforts paid off; the effects won an Oscar. But the film was doomed to failure. It was too expensive to make its money back.

Joseph Cotten stars as a starving artist who meets a mysterious young girl (Jennifer Jones) in the park. Every time he sees her afterwards she's aged a bit more. Though he begins to suspect that she's the spirit of a dead person, she nonetheless inspires him to paint his greatest picture, a portrait of her.

Directed by William Dieterle (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Devil and Daniel Webster), the film has a wistful, dreamy quality (which may be why director Luis Bunuel was drawn to it) and even its overabundance of music doesn't spoil this mood. Ethel Barrymore and Lillian Gish appear in wonderful small roles. It's a wonderful film and well worth the handsome transfer it gets on Kino Lorber's 2017 Blu-ray. The black-and-white images are sharp and clean, and a mono soundtrack is bright and clear. The disc offers a second audio track, a new stereo mix for the tinted "storm" sequence only. Historian Troy Howarth provides a commentary track, and there are trailers for this and other KL releases.

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