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Archive for the ‘Ethel Barrymore’ Category

Portrait Of Jennie

16 Sep

Portrait Of Jennie – Directed by William Dieterle. Ghost Story. A bum artist becomes a genius through visitations from a long-dead girl. 86 minutes Black and White 1948.

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An actress of minute talent, Jennifer Jones loomed large in the films of the 40s, and my tendency is to dismiss her, as it is to dismiss Gene Tierney, as an actress without content, and it’s not fair to what talent they do possess. I always felt Jones was rather dopey, and yet she’s pretty good here and perfectly cast for two reasons, because the girl, after all, is a ghost and has no content, and because the picture was produced by Jones’ husband David O. Selznick. Selznick was a producer, but he was actually an auteur. He was a man of robust energy, great charm, appeal, generosity, honesty, experience, fun, and skill, but once a picture was in train he became a horror of intrusiveness.  Interfering, writing, rewriting, reshooting, redirecting, memoing up the wazoo, riding his people like a slave driver, with no consideration for anyone – what was he up to? In every case what he was up to, without knowing it, was making the picture about himself. He did not want to make a picture, he wanted to be the picture. His most famous example of this is Gone With The Wind: Scarlet O’Hara is exactly like Selznick himself – charming, ruthless, sexually without morals, ambitious, overwhelming, fun, attractive, in love with the wrong person, and so deserving you can deny nothing to him. Scarlett’s story is Selznick. Each of his films was like this, and Portrait Of Jennie is another one still, although by the time it is made Selznick had come to the frayed end of his stories. Each human being has more than one story in him, and this one is the story of a man who creates an ideal girl and how she in turn makes him creative. This is what he had done in his actual life. Moreover, Selznick casts as the girl the woman he had stolen from her husband and made his magical mistress and muse and movie star, Jennifer Jones. Here he even sets her up with a story with her very own name, Jennie. Jones has to travel in a year from age 12 to age 25, and she does it well right up to the clumsy finale. She uses the trick of keeping her mouth open to suggest ingénue appeal, but she does it good. A supporting cast of astounding strength is asked to atlas-up this edifice of a feather: Ethel Barrymore with her voice of pained patience, huge eyes, and old amusement, the greatly lively Cecil Kellaway as the art dealer, David Wayne as a bright mick, Lillian Gish as a nun, Florence Bates as a heartless landlady, Henry Hull and Felix Bressart. They’re all just fine. Selznick often used Joseph Cotton in his films, an actor of deeply suburban genius and no rival sex appeal whatever. He is most carefully miscast as the artist.

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