Monday, 17 June 2013

Review - Portrait of Jennie (1948 - Dir. William Dieterle)

I was chatting to someone today about a film that I'd watched last night. When the subject of it being a black and white film came up, the person in question said, "I don't watch black and white films." I knew he liked horror stuff so I enquired as to whether he'd seen Psycho. Nope. 

Black and white photography is fine and often seen in wedding albums. It is even referred to as contemporary. 

But black and white films are rarely made, probably due to the fact that they won't make any money. I've seen eyes glaze over and brains switch off as soon as a black and white film appears on the telly. 

There is a huge barrier that could all be down to the perception of black and white films as being dull. Granted, the pace is slower, but the stories are arguably better than anything that's being knocked out today. How many films have you seen that have a great start, then peter out towards the end as the writer discovers they haven't got a clue what the film is about. They just had a great initial idea.

Crikey, I better get round to the film: Portrait of Jennie. This could be a perfect entry point for black-and-white-o-phobes because the end scenes have been colour tinted. In green. And some are even in red. There's even one shot that's in full technicolour. Ooooh. (An even easier entry point could be Pleasantville. It was made relatively recently and it's got some colour scenes too. I spoil you.)

Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is a struggling artist trying to bring home the Pek. One day he meets a girl, Jennie (Jennifer Jones) in a park and is inspired by her. Now, I'm not entirely sure how old she's supposed to be, but let's be generous: she's 16. He looks about 45. If not 50. Eben becomes obsessed with Jennie. You can see where this is going. Let's not forget the time that this was made in. Couples were supposed to wait until marriage before they started doing rudes. So the occurrence of an older man falling in love with a younger girl and then waiting for her was fine at the time. A similar relationship appears in Random Harvest. So everything's fine... Oh, okay. He's a paedo.

But there's a fantasy element to this seedy tale. What starts out as a dubious love story evolves into a mystery and then an adventure as Eben tries to discover just what the hell is going on with Jennie. By the end we are treated to some miniature work which results in the emotional climax of the film. Pretty affecting stuff. The impact of the final colour shot is fairly huge too. If it had all been in colour, it would hardly be noticed. The contrast is attention grabbing. (The Hindenburg pulls a similar trick with even greater aplomb.)

Watched with eyes in 1940s mode, ignoring the slightly dodgy perversions of the main character, Portrait of Jennie would make an interesting double bill with Vertigo. All of the actors perform admirably too (Ethel Barrymore is a treat as always as the owner of an art studio). It turned into something that I wasn't expecting, which pumps up the rating, especially when the something else is better than what came before. So if you're like the fellow at the start of this review, dive into the world of black and white and see what you think. It's like olives. The more you eat, the nicer they get.

If you like this you could also try:
The Mist (black and white version), Psycho, Vertigo, Anatomy of a Murder, The Whisperer in Darkness

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