One of the most atmospheric films I have ever seen is director William Dieterle's Portrait of Jennie (1948), a romantic fantasy starring Joseph Cotten as Eben Adams and Jennifer Jones as Jennie Appleton. This film takes place in Depression-era New York City and captures some marvelous shots of Central Park via cinematographer Joseph August's splendid black & white photography.
Initially composer Bernard Hermann was set to write the musical score for this film, but he parted company with producer David O. Selznick. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin was hired to complete the soundtrack, borrowing heavily from Classical composer Claude Debussy's distinctive impressionistic style. Claude Debussy's "Nuages" can be heard in the opening narrative sequence, with "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair" woven into some of the background music throughout the film, and "Arabesque No. 1 in E" also appearing in background musical sequences as well as the closing credits. I love how this music weaves back and forth amidst the action upon the screen, allowing passages to assume a sense of extraordinary texture throughout the evolving plot involving the full cast of characters. Here there is a sense of magnificent drama, mystery, and brooding temperament heightened by the fluctuations in the main character's broad range of human emotions.
A haunting song and some memorable spoken dialogue
The one original song composed by Bernard Hermann and still part of the soundtrack is "Jennie's Song," with Hermann's music matched to Robert Nathan's lyrics. The lines are intriguing with the words "Where I come from, nobody knows," leading to speculation as to Jennie's origin and the mysterious nature of her life. Then there are some richly evocative moments of dialogue spoken by Jennie as she shares with Eben, "I know we were meant to be together. The strands of our lives are woven together and neither the world nor time can tear them apart." Jennie speaks intimately to Eben the artist, "Eben....I want always to sit and watch you paint....I want you to paint all the beautiful things in the world." From an artistic viewpoint, this is the kind of fabulous inspiration and ultimate encouragement any artist would want to hear.
A superlative cast
Jennifer Jones is one of the most beautiful actresses I have ever seen, perfectly fit for this unusual role. She complements every scene she is in with the veteran actor Joseph Cotten, also superbly cast in his role as the struggling artist. Ethel Barrymore adds convincing demeanor as the gallery owner Miss Spinney, and Cecil Kellaway is perfectly suited to his supporting role as gallery curator & friend to Miss Spinney.