William Dieterle’s 1948 film Portrait of Jennie, starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten, is one of my problem films.
As a kid I found it haunting and romantic before I even knew what the word “romantic” meant. For almost 50 years, I have “heard” the music of Claude Debussy that was borrowed for the film’s score, and adapted by Dimitri Tiomkin. It was perfect for a film about a man who falls in love with a ghost, a painting. Ghost music.
The problem is that I tried to watch it sometime this year and many, but not all, of the moments that gave me the shivers years ago had become trite. It did not hold up. It crumbled. It was dumb.
I was sorry I didn’t leave well enough alone and let the film remain a part of the magic of my childhood. But no: Mr. Smart Guy had to ask that riskiest of film questions: Did it hold up? I got my answer.
But the star, Jennifer Jones, was a beautiful, magnetic performer, and Song of Bernadette and Duel in the Sun are just two of the films in her considerable legacy.
She died today at age 90.