Portrait of Jennie (1949)

82 or 86 mins | Fantasy | 22 April 1949

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HISTORY

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 9 Mar 1949 HR news item, New York and Los Angeles screenings of the film featured a "Cycloramic screen together with Multi-sound" during the storm sequences. DV commented that the screen "opens up to thrice normal size for a magnificently lensed hurricane; a spellbinding score by Dimitri Tiomkin; four tints for ...

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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 9 Mar 1949 HR news item, New York and Los Angeles screenings of the film featured a "Cycloramic screen together with Multi-sound" during the storm sequences. DV 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 HR production chart published 3 Oct 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; Cam op Curt Fetters ; Stills John Miehle; Ward supv Frank Beetson; Asst Ann Peck; Const supv 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; Asst cam Joe Kelley; Skating supv Skippy Baxter; Stills John Miehle. As indicated by HR production charts, filming on Portrait of Jennie was halted in mid-Apr 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 31 Oct 1949 and featured Joseph Cotten and Anne Baxter in the title role. According to a Var news item, the film was acquired for redistribution in Dec 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.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
1 Jan 1949
---
Daily Variety
24 Dec 1948
p. 3
Film Daily
30 Dec 1948
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
3 Oct 1947
p. 15
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 1948
p. 3, 9
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 1949
p. 4
Hollywood Reporter
9 Mar 1949
p. 9
Hollywood Reporter
29 Mar 1949
p. 8
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 1949
p. 9
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
24 Apr 1948
p. 4139
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
1 Jan 1949
p. 4441
New York Times
30 Mar 1949
p. 31
Variety
29 Dec 1948
p. 6
Variety
12 Dec 1973
---
Variety
10 Apr 1974
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Sal Scappa Jr.
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Portrait painted by
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
MUSIC
Mus score wrt and cond
Mus ed
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Process and miniature photog
PRODUCTION MISC
Staff exec [Prod mgr]
Staff exec [Tech supv]
Staff exec [Film ed]
Staff exec
Staff exec [Hair stylist]
Staff exec [Scen asst]
Staff exec [Asst dir]
Staff exec [Unit mgr]
Staff exec
Staff exec [Makeup]
Prod mgr
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan (New York, 1940).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
MUSIC
Musical score based on "The Maid with the Flaxen Hair" and other themes by Claude Debussy.
SONGWRITER/COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Tidal Wave
Release Date:
22 April 1949
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Los Angeles: 25 Dec 1948; New York opening: 22 Mar 1949
Production Date:
late Mar--mid Apr 1947; mid Jun--early Oct 1947 at RKO-Pathé Studios (New York City--Harlem)
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Vanguard Films, Inc.
29 March 1949
LP2188
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black & white with color sequences
b&w with Technicolor and sepia seq
Duration(in mins):
82 or 86
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12700
SYNOPSIS

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 Land's End in 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 draws a of Jennie which he subsequently sells to Mr. Matthews., The next day Eben tells his taxi driver friend Gus O'Toole about Jennie. When 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 "Mick" 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 ...

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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 Land's End in 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 draws a of Jennie which he subsequently sells to Mr. Matthews., The next day Eben tells his taxi driver friend Gus O'Toole about Jennie. When 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 "Mick" 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 convent college student and sits for Eben for her official portrait. Later Eben meets Jennie at the convent and she thanks Eben for waiting for her. Soon after Eben shows the partially completed portrait to Spinny and Matthews who are both deeply impressed. Jennie visits and asks Eben to finish her portrait then reveals that she must go away but assures him that they will meet again. After she is gone, Eben goes to the convent where she lived and learns from the Mother Superior that Jennie drowned years ago after her boat was lost in a tidal wave off Cape Cod. Delivering the completed portrait to Miss Spinny, Eben, accepting that he has met Jennie across time, rents a boat and sails out to Land's End. A fierce storm erupts and Eben's boat is smashed against the rocks. From the top of the lighthouse, Eben sees Jennie's small boat tossing in the waves and rushes down to her. Although Jennie reaches Eben and vows she will love him forever, ultimately the tide is too strong and she is swept away. Eben survives and confides to the concerned Spinny that he is at peace having seeen Jennie once last time. Some time later Eben finds artistic success through Jennie's haunting portrait.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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