My male human fancies himself a writer. I put up with this because “writing” usually means “sitting on the couch in soft pants and thinking,” which ends up providing me a soft place to sleep and a captive ear-scratcher. All day long. I’m telling you, my life is HARD.
Now, my human is a writer of many things, but lately, he’s doing crazy stuff like making up alternate steampunk universes and post-apocalyptic landscapes. To spark his creativity, he’s been venturing into the great canons of sci-fi filmmaking. The limit of my interest in technology begins and ends with the remarkable CGI Richard Parker in Life of Pi (we could be TWINS), but with a soft lap just waiting to be napped in, I resigned myself to settling in for a classic of the genre—1948’s Portrait of Jennie.
The film opens with Joseph Cotten as Eben, a dejected artist wandering snowy Central Park as a pensive voiceover tells us, “those were the years when therewas a hunger in you for more than food… It was a winter of your mind when the life of your genius seemed frozen and motionless.”As a cat, I understood this well. Under an icy arbor, Eben meets a strange little girl named Jennie (Jennifer Jones), dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing. They strike up a merry conversation, and Eben begins a sketch of what will become the eponymous Portrait of Jennie.
Eben’s return to his boarding house is where the reason I’m reviewing this film comes in. THERE’S A CAT! The landlady (Florence Bates) meets Eben at the base of the stairs, and informs him there’s a package waiting. Eben fetches it and leaves, and we’re treated to a brief scene in which the landlady and her elderly friend discuss… something. I didn’t hear a word, because one of the cutest cats ever captured in black-and-white was prettily weaving around their ankles. I got very excited, but I hate to say, this was the beginning and the end of that charming kitten.
The film continues, and Eben runs into Jennie intermittently over the next year. Strangely, it seems she has aged significantly between each meeting. By meeting number three, she’s of marriageable age and they become engaged. Perhaps I’m a prude, but wasn’t she thirteen less than a year ago? Anyhow, Eben is naturally a bit suspicious, and does some digging. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll leave the plotting there. The only thing I’ll tell you is that Eben does finish the Portrait of Jennie.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this little movie. It is predictable and a bit trite, but there are also some real gems in the screenplay, though not quite enough to call it “great.” The story is engaging and never lags, and while I wasn’t entirely convinced by the romance, Jennie is undoubtedly magical. The most impressive element of Portrait of Jennie, though, is the massive, atmospheric shots of winter in New York City by cinematographer Joseph August. It’s incredibly beautiful, evocative work, and worth a Netflix queue jump there. My favorite moments were those shot in Jennie’s convent/college, filmed at the Cloisters in Northern Manhattan, right near where I live. I’ve been known to spend time in the nearby park with my humans, but I’m not allowed inside since it’s a “museum.” Like I care. It was a great pleasure, though, to see the nooks and crannies of the Cloisters through the literal lens of 1948. This exemplifies my experience of Portrait of Jennie on the whole—you know what it is, but that doesn’t take away from the beautiful, enjoyable journey.
So, for Portrait of Jennie, a small 30 paw-points, but a good-hearted recommendation.
Till next time,