In late 1948, producer David O. Selznick released Portrait of Jennie, a romantic fantasy that defied the conventions and, not surprisingly, died at the box-office. Audiences were asked to accept a “serious” romance between a man and a female ghost in a time-curving story in which the past and the present come together. It’s easy to see why ticket buyers resisted its ahead-of-its-time metaphysics: there’s nothing comic about the way its fairy-tale elements intermingle with its reality; the film retains an aura of mystery, choosing not to go out of its way to explain its necessarily inexplicable plot, including its ending. Nowadays, we’re overly familiar with all manner of time-travel stories and nothing in Portrait of Jennie should confuse a modern moviegoer. Call it a mood piece, a film that communicates with an emphasis on visual inventiveness, the key to its enthralling power. (How many other Hollywood films of the era could conceivably be described as mood pieces?) It’s an exquisite, meticulously wrought production, a haunting, cosmic tale of the quests for true love and artistic inspiration beyond the boundaries of time.
excerpted from John DiLeo’s
Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery
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