PORTRAIT OF JENNIE is unique not just for its subject matter, but for being one of the very, very few films of the Hollywood studio era to have been filmed on location in New York. Almost always in the 1930s and 1940s, a film that was supposedly set in New York or Chicago would in fact be filmed on a Hollywood back lot. In this case, that would have been a serious blow to the atmosphere of the film, since the numerous scenes shot in Central Park, with the unique skyline framing the park, creates imagery unlike any other film of the time.
The cast overall is quite excellent. Jennifer Jones is not completely believable in her role, but, then, I am not sure many actresses could have been. She is asked to age too much during the course of the film, and no adult actress is going to be completely believable as small girl and as an adult. I always love seeing Joseph Cotton in anything, and this was one of his finest romantic roles. The cast is filled out with a bevy of notable character actresses and actors, such as David Wayne, Lillian Gish, Ethel Barrymore, Florence Bates, Cecil Kellaway, and Henry Hull.
The ending is a bit anticlimactic. The heart of the story is Eben Adams's (Joseph Cotton) meeting Jennie, and the way she changes at each meeting, until he is able to solve her mystery. The ending was much ballyhooed by Selznick, with the striking tinted waves, but ironically it pales next to the much quieter, but far more emotionally involving, story of a man and a woman.
There's something with these people-meeting-from-different-times-theme-based films, that have this special, strange & weird effect on me, being this movie (in my opinion) the definite masterpiece of its kind. For those who are interested, besides the mentioned above, you can try both versions of "Smilin' Through" (1932 & 1941), "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (1947), "Somewhere in Time" (1980), and although not strictly of the kind, "Peter Ibbetson" (1935).
Jennifer Jones does a very fine job in the difficult part of the ethereal Jennie, giving credibility at the character's different stages of her life. Joseph Cotten, a very fine actor, is absolutely believable as the obsessed artist, who learns (unknowingly) that until one really loves somebody, one hasn't really lived.
Ethel Barrymore, grand dame of the American Theater and an occasional character film actress, gives a great performance in a part worthy of her talent, as the owner of an Art Gallery who befriends Cotten, becoming sort of her mentor. Others in the exceptional supporting cast: Cecil Kellaway (as Barrymore's partner), sweet grand lady of the silent screen, the legendary Lillian Gish (as a Nun) and funny and very human David Wayne (as Cotten's pal).
Trust me, if you're a sensitive person, this movie will linger in your mind for several days after watching it, and it won't end there, you will want to "experience" it again and again. Since I bought this dvd, and I've got a big video and dvd collection, I have watched it at least four times, not counting all the times I had previously seen it on TV's late night showings.
The dvd edition quality is very good and it gives one the special opportunity of watching the film in the original way it was intended to be seen, most of it in black and white, then switching to green shading (for the storm sequence), then to sepia tone and the final shot in full Technicolor, a special treat.
The dvd has no bonuses, except for the film's original trailer and, believe me, this picture does not need anything else!!
Jennifer Jones & Joseph Cotten starred in three other excellent pictures prior to this final pairing: "Since You Went Away" (1944), "Love Letters" (1945) and "Duel in the Sun", all of them produced by David O. Selznick, Jones' second husband.