Among the quirky films that have found the way to the top of my list of favorite movies is a little known (save to film buffs) 1948 picture, Portrait of Jennie, about Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten), a struggling artist, finding his muse, a woman (or is she just an image?) who helps him turn his raw talent into real accomplishment. Jennifer Jones, that muse, the subject of that portrait, died yesterday at her home in Malibu. She was 90.
Most obituaries mention the film only in passing (if at all). To be sure, her body of work was most impressive. She was nominated five times for an Academy Award, winning for her portrayal of Bernadette Soubirous in 1943’s The Song of Bernadette. But, I’ll always remember her portrayal of Jennie:
She plays the character with the same innocence she played Bernadette, but with an entirely different energy. There is something haunting about her appearance on screen, entirely appropriate because, if she is a real, she is a ghost, appearing only to the artist who will paint the portrait that will capture her beauty and secure his fame.
Those who warm to this movie find that her presence lingers long after the images have faded from the screen. Her presence is this movie is like a face in a painting that remains with you even when it (or a reproduction) is no longer in front of your eyes.
This is not to diminish the rest of her work, but only to draw to your attention to a too often neglected film. Hollywood has lost a legend this week. A truly talented actress has passed on, leaving us a number of great films and one particularly unusual one which really resonates for those of us fortunate enough to have seen it at turning points in our lives.