A long-forgotten gem, “Portrait of Jennie” is probably one of the most fascinating (and least-seen) NYC films ever made. While the sentiment that “New York plays one of the characters” is often postulated, it’s seldom even close to being as true as it is with this 1948 drama. The city seems to have an almost supernatural presence, transcending time and guiding the fates of different characters from different eras.
The main protagonist is an impoverished painter named Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) who meets a fey little girl named Jennie (Jennifer Jones) in the park. Over the course of several weeks, it becomes apparent that she is some sort of apparition from a different time, but whose ethereal spirit inspires him to become the great artist he was meant to be.
Using real-life NYC locations, the story is grounded with a sense of realism, but it’s shot in such a whimsically artistic way, that we’re transported to a fantasy world that seems to only exist in the dreams of a creative soul. Most of the on-location shooting took place in Central Park with many of the establishing shots filmed with a canvas overlay to give it a painting-like quality. And with the majority of the story taking place in the dead of winter, most of the surroundings are starkly empty, creating an even more dreamy atmosphere.