Cast & Crew
In the winter of 1934, artist Eben Adam's work is rejected by art dealers Matthews and Spinney. Depressed, Eben goes to Central Park, where he sits down on a bench next to an object wrapped in newspaper. When he begins to open it, Eben hears a young girl named Jennie Appleton call out that it is hers. Jennie, who is dressed in turn-of-the-century clothes, claims that her parents are actors at a vaudeville house called Hammerstein's Victoria, but Eben says that theater was torn down decades earlier. She begins examining his paintings and becomes frightened by one depicting a lighthouse on a rocky point off Cape Cod. Jennie tells Eben that she must leave, so he turns to get her package for her. When he turns back a moment later, however, Jennie is gone. Inside his room at a boardinghouse, Eben opens the package, which contains Jennie's silk scarf. Eben then begins his portrait of Jennie, and the next day, while dining at a restaurant, tells his taxi driver friend, Gus O'Toole, about her. Eben takes out the scarf to show Gus and notices an advertisement for Jennie's parents' act on the newspaper, which is dated 1910. Later, Gus introduces Eben to restaurant's Irish American owner, Mr. Moore, and convinces him to hire Eben to paint a mural of Irish politician "Mic" Collins above the bar, which Gus insists will attract patriotic Irish customers. Days later, Eben again encounters Jennie in the park and is surprised to see that she is already a teenager. When Eben asks to meet her parents, Jennie agrees to return to the park with them, but does not. Eben decides to look for her in Times Square. There, he finds the place where Hammerstein's had been, and the guard at the new building, Pete, who had also worked for Hammerstein's, tells Eben to see a black woman named Clara Morgan. Clara, who knew the Appletons well, shows him photographs of Jennie and tells him that Jennie's parents were killed one night when their high-wire broke during a performance. Afterward, Jennie was sent to live at a convent. That evening, Eben goes back to the park where a sobbing Jennie tells him about her parents' death, which she maintains occurred earlier in the evening. Later, Moore holds a big party to celebrate the unveiling of the Collins mural. When Jennie returns again, she has matured into a beautiful college student. Soon after Eben finishes the portrait, Jennie leaves, but tells him that they will meet again. After she is gone, Eben goes to the convent where she lived and learns that Jennie drowned years ago after her boat was lost in a tidal wave off Cape Cod. Hoping to rescue her across time, Eben rents a boat and rows out to the spot near the lighthouse where Jennie drowned. Suddenly a storm erupts, and Eben's boat is smashed against the rocks below the lighthouse. After calling out Jennie's name, Eben sees her boat tossing in the waves and rushes to help her onto the rocks. The tide is too strong though, and she is swept away.
Charles L. Freeman
J. Mcmillan Johnson
J. Mcmillan Johnson
Anna Hill Johnstone
Joseph B. Platt
Sal Scappa Jr.
David O. Selznick
James G. Stewart
Best Special Effects
Portrait of Jennie
A suitably earnest Joseph Cotten stars in this supernatural love story as Eben Adams, whose attempts to sell his landscape paintings are largely unsuccessful. But Adams' first portrait, of the bewitching Jennie Appleton (Jennifer Jones), whom he first encounters in the park, immediately sells to gallery owner Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore). Miss Spinney takes the young painter under her wing and proves just as intrigued by Adams' tales of the phantom-like Jennie, who comes and goes at will, as she is by Adams' stunning portraits of the sad-eyed girl.
At infrequent moments throughout the story, Jennie reappears to Adams, begging him to "wait until I grow up" so she can marry him. And each time she materializes she looks less like an adolescent and more like a young woman. Adams finds both his greatest muse and greatest mystery in Jennie and makes it his quest to find out more about the beguiling, beautiful girl. A visitation from another age, Jennie tells stories of a family trapeze act long since vanished and of a convent school education. D.W. Griffith star Lillian Gish makes an appearance in Portrait of Jennie as the school's mother superior, who tells Adams during a fact-finding visit, that Jennie died years ago.
More troubling still is the look of fear that comes into Jennie's eyes when she gazes at Adams' portrait of a roily New England sea or when she sings the lyrics to her signature, haunting refrain "Where I come from nobody knows/And where I'm going everything goes./The wind blows, the sea flows/And nobody knows" before disappearing yet again.
Adams eventually travels to New England in search of Jennie in an unexpected climax where her love-wracked suitor finally learns the truth about the lovely, elusive subject of his portraits.
Director William Dieterle enhances the eerie tone of Portrait of Jennie with stunning color sequences, like the raging New England hurricane at the film's conclusion -- whose storm clouds are a sickly green -- and in the final masterful portrait Adams paints of Jennie, unveiled in stunning Technicolor.
Producer David O. Selznick wrote in a memo about the climactic storm, "I hope to get a real D.W. Griffith effect out of this that will have tremendous dramatic power and enormous spectacular value, thereby adding a big showmanship element to the picture." Some of the film's other effects are equally beautiful and inspired, such as the rendering of scenes of Manhattan in the gauzy, dreamy terms of oil paintings.
Selznick was as haunted by the fetching real-life Jennie -- Jennifer Jones, that is -- as his on-screen proxy Eben Adams. After stealing the actress away from her husband Robert Walker (who reportedly suffered from extreme melancholy and carried a torch for Jones for the rest of his life), Selznick would dominate the actress both emotionally and professionally. Prone to jealousy, Selznick reportedly only chose leading men to appear alongside Jones who were in stable relationships and known for their fidelity like Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten (at the time married to Lenore Kip), who had starred in four previous films with Jones and enjoyed a pleasant working relationship with the actress. The film's production, however, was not so ideal.
Shooting for Portrait of Jennie extended to a year and a half and proved to be a money-losing venture, requiring endless script revisions. Selznick recalled the film as "doomed to be one of the most awful experiences any studio ever had." The producer, overworked and exhausted by the endless demands of running an independent film production business, was especially galled by needless expenditures that bloated the film's budget. Selznick recoiled at expenses like $15,000 for "extras" in an ice skating scene featuring "skaters who for all practical purposes could have been the skaters that were in the park every day." Outfitted in thousands of dollars of wardrobe, these background skates appear as mere "specks in the distance" in the actual film.
Though the film's production was trouble plagued and emotionally fraught for Jones and Selznick, Portrait of Jennie was a boost to its stars' careers. Cotten was awarded a best actor award at the Venice Festival for his performance, and though Jones was not nominated for an Academy Award, she was nevertheless praised by critics for her performance as the troubled heroine in this haunting romantic thriller.
Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: William Dieterle
Screenplay: Paul Osborn, Peter Berneis and Leonardo Bercovici, based on the novel by Robert Nathan
Cinematography: Joseph August
Production Design: J. McMillan Johnson
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Principal Cast: Jennifer Jones (Jennie Appleton), Joseph Cotten (Eben Adams), Ethel Barrymore (Miss Spinney), Cecil Kellaway (Mr. Matthews), David Wayne (Gus O'Toole), Albert Sharpe (Mr. Moore), Florence Bates (Mrs. Jekes the Landlady), Lillian Gish (Mother Mary of Mercy).
BW-87m. Closed captioning.
by Felicia Feaster
Portrait of Jennie
I hate for it to stop, because when will we ever have it again?- Jennie Appleton
Where I come from nobody knows and where I am going everything goes. The wind blows, the sea flows, nobody knows. And where I am going, nobody knows.- Jennie Appleton
I wish that you would wait for me to grow up so that we could always be together.- Jennie Appleton
I just can't understand a man fiddling away his time just painting things. Of course he did shovel some snow to pay part of last month's rent.- Mrs. Jekes
Painting things? Women? Women in the...- Mrs. Bunce
Mrs. Bunce, we agreed that he was a gentleman and gentleman just don't paint "women in the..."- Mrs. Jekes
No, of course not.- Mrs. Bunce
I know we were meant to be together. The strands of our lives are woven together and neither the world nor time can tear them apart.- Jennie Appleton
David Wayne and Albert Sharpe, who both have supporting roles in this film, were the stars of the original stage production of "Finian's Rainbow", which opened on Broadway the year before this film was released and was playing there at the same time that this film was being made.
Special effects: although almost the entire film is in black and white, the tidal wave sequence towards the end is shown in green tint, and the final shot of the completed portrait of Jennie is in full Technicolor. The original theatrical releases in L.A. and New York presented the tidal wave sequence on a special pre-Cinemascope wide screen.
The working title of this film was Tidal Wave. The picture opens with an offscreen narrator (uncredited), who introduces the story. The narration is then taken over by Joseph Cotten as "Eben Adams," who periodically provides a voice-over that bridges the various appearances of "Jennie." A number of scenes open with shots resembling the texture of an oil on canvas painting. Two quotations are also included in the opening title cards: "Who knoweth if to die be but to live...And that called life by mortals but be death," from Phrixus, fragment 830, by Euripides and "Beauty is Truth, truth beauty that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know," from the poem "Ode to Melancholy," by John Keats. All of the film's cast and crew credits are presented at the end of the film, along with a written acknowledgment to Bernard Herrmann, Robert Brackman and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among the themes heard in the film are some from Claude Debussy's "Afternoon of a Faun."
The picture was shot on location in New York City, Boston and parts of New England. News items reported that Portrait of Jennie was the first feature to be shot at RKO's newly constructed New York studios. According to a March 9, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, New York and Los Angeles screenings of the film featured a "Cycloramic screen together with Multi-sound" during the storm sequences. Daily Variety commented that the screen "opens up to thrice normal size for a magnificently lensed hurricane; a spellbinding score by Dimitri Tiomkin; four tints for various sequences-black-and-white during early footage, green for the storm, sepiatone for the lull that follows, and a Technicolor finale." The film's special effects crew received an Academy Award for their efforts on the film, and Joseph August, who died during the film's production, was nominated for Best Cinematographer (b&w). The Hollywood Reporter production chart published October 3, 1947 indicates that cinematographer Paul Eagler completed the photography; however, modern sources credit Lee Garmes with photographing the few remaining scenes. Joseph Cotten was awarded the Venice Film Festival Best Actor of the Year Award for his portrayal of "Eben Adams."
Modern sources add the following production credits: Ed asst Barbara Keon; 2d asst dir Harry Anderson; Scr clerk Charlsie Bryant; Research Ann Harris; Cast dir Ruth Burch; Camera Operator Curt Fetters; Stills John Miehle; Ward supv Frank Beetson; Assistant Ann Peck; Construction Supervisor Harold Fenton; Chief elec Ed Harman; Head grip Morris Rosen; Props Arden Cripe; Draperies Harry Apperson; Eff projection Robert Hansard; Spec eff cam Harry Wolf; Assistant Camera Joe Kelley; Skating supv Skippy Baxter; Stills John Miehle. As indicated by Hollywood Reporter production charts, filming on Portrait of Jennie was halted in mid-April 1947. Modern sources attribute the five-week delay in production to David O. Selznick's dissatisfaction with "the script, the cost, the location sites and the way Jennifer Jones photographed." He then hired a new writer to rework the script while production was shut down. A radio adaptation of the film was broadcasted on Lux Radio Theatre on October 31, 1949 and featured Joseph Cotten and Anne Baxter in the title role. According to a Variety news item, the film was acquired for redistribution in December 1973. Nat King Cole's 1949 hit, "Portrait of Jennie," music by J. Russell Robinson and lyrics by Gordon Burdge, was not heard in the film. According to modern sources, Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier were considered for the role of Eben Adams.
Released in United States 1948
Released in United States March 1985
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1948
Released in United States March 1985 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Fabulous Fifty-Hour Filmex Fantasy Marathon) March 14-31, 1985.)