AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Portrait of Jennie
Alternate Title: Tidal Wave
Director: William Dieterle (Dir)
Release Date:   22 Apr 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)
Duration (in mins):   82 or 86
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Cast:   Jennifer Jones (Jennie Appleton)  
    Joseph Cotten (Eben Adams)  
    Ethel Barrymore (Miss Spinney)  
    Lillian Gish (Mother Mary of Mercy)  
    Cecil Kellaway (Mr. Matthews)  
    David Wayne (Gus O'Toole, taxi driver)  
    Albert Sharpe (Mr. Moore, saloon keeper)  
    Henry Hull (Eke)  
    Florence Bates (Mrs. Jekes, the landlady)  
    Felix Bressart (The old doorman)  
    Clem Bevans (Capt. Catch Cobb)  
    Maude Simmons (Clara Morgan)  
    Esther Somers (Mrs. Bunce)  
    John Farrell (The policeman)  
    Robert Dudley (An old mariner)  

Summary: 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. 

Production Company: Vanguard Films, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Selznick Releasing Organization  
Director: William Dieterle (Dir)
  Arthur Fellows (Asst dir)
  Sal Scappa Jr. (Asst dir)
Producer: Cecil Barker (Exec prod)
  David O. Selznick (Prod)
  David Hempstead (Assoc prod)
Writer: Paul Osborn (Scr)
  Peter Berneis (Scr)
  Leonardo Bercovici (Adpt)
Photography: Joseph August (Photog)
  Paul Eagler (Photog)
Art Direction: J. McMillan Johnson (Prod des)
  Joseph B. Platt (Assoc)
  Robert Brackman (Portrait painted by )
Film Editor: Gerard Wilson (Film ed)
  Noel Coppleman (Film ed)
Set Decoration: J. McMillan Johnson (Prod des)
  Claude Carpenter (Set dec)
Costumes: Lucinda Ballard (Cost)
  Anna Hill Johnstone (Asst)
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin (Mus score wrt and cond)
  Aubrey Lind (Mus ed)
Sound: Don McKay (Sd)
Special Effects: Clarence Slifer (Spec eff)
  Russell Shearman (Spec eff)
  Charles L. Freeman (Eff ed)
  Paul Eagler (Process and miniature photog)
Production Misc: Argyle Nelson (Staff exec [Prod mgr])
  James G. Stewart (Staff exec [Tech supv])
  William Morgan (Staff exec [Film ed])
  Don McKay (Staff exec)
  Larry Germain (Staff exec [Hair stylist])
  Lydia Schiller (Staff exec [Scen asst])
  Arthur Fellows (Staff exec [Asst dir])
  Clem Beauchamp (Staff exec [Unit mgr])
  Gerard Wilson (Staff exec)
  Mel Berns (Staff exec [Makeup])
  Dewey Starkey (Prod mgr)
Country: United States

Music: Musical score based on "The Maid with the Flaxen Hair" and other themes by Claude Debussy.
Composer: Claude Debussy
Source Text: Based on the novel Portrait of Jennie by Robert Nathan (New York, 1940).
Authors: Robert Nathan

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Vanguard Films, Inc. 29/3/1949 dd/mm/yyyy LP2188

PCA NO: 12700
Physical Properties: b&w with col seq: b&w with Technicolor and sepia seq
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Fantasy
 
Subjects (Major): Ghosts
  Love
  Painters (Of paintings)
  Paintings
 
Subjects (Minor): Adolescents
  Advertisements
  African Americans
  Art dealers
  Bars
  Boardinghouses
  Boats
  Cape Cod (MA)
  Convents
  Drowning
  Guards
  Irish Americans
  Lighthouses
  New York City--Central Park
  Newspapers
  Parties
  Photographs
  Scarves
  Tidal waves
  Winter

Note: 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. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   1 Jan 1949.   
Daily Variety   24 Dec 48   p. 3.
Film Daily   30 Dec 48   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Oct 47   p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Dec 48   p. 3, 9
Hollywood Reporter   2 Mar 49   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Mar 49   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   29 Mar 49   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   7 Sep 49   p. 9.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   24 Apr 48   p. 4139.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   1 Jan 49   p. 4441.
New York Times   30 Mar 49   p. 31.
Variety   29 Dec 48   p. 6.
Variety   12 Dec 1973.   
Variety   10 Apr 1974.   

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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