Portrait of Jennie (Dieterle, 1948)

This review contains spoilers (2nd paragraph).

Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle, 1948)

After watching this film, I remember why I like silent films so much more than the classic Hollywood era. It’s a lot harder to be overly sentimental and spout cheesy dialogue when no one is talking. Portrait of Jennie, unfortunately, suffers from both (as well as a distracting and overbearing soundtrack). But, flaws aside, this film was excellent. I’m not sure if New York has ever been as beautiful as it is here. Director of Photography, Joseph H. August, uses light and shadow exquisitely to make some extremely beautiful images. He also occasionally uses a filter to create several shots that look as if they were painted on a canvas, and since the film revolves around how the world is viewed through the eyes of a painter, this was kind of clever.

Additionally, this film is flat out eerie. The title character, Jennie, first appears as if out of nowhere as a young girl and keeps returning to the protagonist’s life, always several years older. It’s very obvious something strange is happening; Dieterle doesn’t try to hide it. The protagonist recognizes it too, but instead of driving himself crazy seeking answers, he sort of floats along with the idea and falls in love along the way. We never really get a supernatural resolution, but that’s actually a positive. The film’s mysterious element is a key strength. There’s enough I found fascinating about this to mostly mask the bad dialogue and music.  9/10

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2 Responses to “Portrait of Jennie (Dieterle, 1948)”

  1. One of my all-time favorites. Read an excerpt when I was in sixth grade then sought out the book, then learned about the film. It’s sort of always been with me. I love the choices made by the director and the cinematographer…just gorgeous.
    The actual portrait, orginally bought by Selznick for Jennifer, stayed with her after he died. It was featured in an story about how the stars decorate their homes in LA…. This was years ago but I did see and read it.

    I wrote an essay on the film in college – about why I could never name a daughter Jennie.

    • chrisfilm Says:

      Glad to find another fan. Always amazing when a work can have such an effect. Is your essay available online anywhere?

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