Tag Archive: Portrait of Jennie


Review by C.J. Bunce

The ideas and situations in Steven Savile’s new novel Glass Town could hardly be more enticing:  In 1922 Alfred Hitchcock began, but did not finish, a film called Number 13. One of the sought-after lost films of Hitchcock, little is known but some film stills and production information, leaving an opening to take the film as a linchpin for a noir mystery.  Savile takes that film and several fascinating ideas and blends them into what becomes a horror story that incorporates compelling visuals from many possible sources: Dead Again, Laura, Vertigo, Portrait of Jennie, Hugo, The Illusionist, The Prestige, and even an element of Tron.  The story doesn’t quite live up to all its antecedents, but it provides some interesting concepts for genre readers willing to dabble in a story full of sex, violence, and grotesque horror along the way.

The grand ideas ultimately are in need of a more refined and pared down plot and possibly a more compelling lead character–Josh is a descendant of a line of men who spent their lives infatuated with a lost actress who appeared in the Number 13.  On Josh’s grandfather’s death he is reeled into a world of his own family connections and a history that he learns about and shares with us along the way as he, too, becomes infatuated with the missing actress and the interworkings of his family, tied into a well-known crime lord.  But we never learn much about Josh and why we should care about him.  Early London cinema and 1990s London don’t quite come through visibly, and the lack of more detailed world building results in a story that could be about a Boston or Chicago or Irish mob family as opposed to the familiar Victorian London of so many classic Gothic novels.  We encounter many bleak and unsavory characters and over-the-top situations–the kind of grotesque fantasy of a Clive Barker movie instead of what could have been a more accessible mainstream mystery interweaving the aura of magicians, the historical authority you might find in a Connie Willis novel, or the command of the details of early film technologies you might find in a Kim Newman story.

The only known image from the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s lost film titled Number 13.

Yet many great ideas come into play.  Josh uncovers and meets a lost and long-dead magician who was able to pull off the ultimate spectacle–hiding an entire town in a glass lens.  An evil ancestor of Josh used the magician to trap the actress he was so fascinated with in this world, a world where a day in this Glass Town can equal a week in the real world.  The story’s bad guy can even manipulate characters within the films of the silent era to do his bad deeds in our world, and we first meet the famed actress as a ghost as she attempts to find a secret talisman of glass in Josh’s home.  Much of the imagery is excellent–a walking and moving actress straight from the beginnings of filmmaking appearing in your living room, incorporating the flickering image of old film as she moves about.

Continue reading

New Pompeii cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a thick 459 pages, British author Daniel Godfrey begins a new time travel series full of twists and turns in New Pompeii, his first novel from a major publisher (Titan Books).  Billed as a novel in the tradition of Michael Crichton, New Pompeii is evocative of Crichton’s early novels, but more closely follows the plotting and style of the time travel science fiction novels of Connie Willis (Lincoln’s Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and the pacing of a Tom Clancy thriller.  Fans of Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, Philip K. Dick’s short stories and his novels Time Out of Joint and Man in the High Castle, Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” stories and films like TimeCop will appreciate this new entry in the time travel and parallel universe sub-genres.

Despite a daunting 75 chapters, New Pompeii is a quick read.  Godfrey follows Nick Houghton, a history scholar who has yet to earn his doctorate as he is inexplicably courted into joining a venture with a corporation that promises the impossible–Novus Particles plucks people from just before the point of death and brings them into the present, cheating the timeline manipulation restrictions like the field trips in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”  Think Philip K. Dick’s Paycheck meets Final Destination.  The company is not a secret–it is well documented that it saved a flight of passengers from a plane crash.  But why are all the survivors now committing suicide?  Who is the ghost student that has been emerging from a bathtub at a college campus over the course of thirty years?  And how do you hide an ancient civilization in the modern world?

Told in short, alternating chapters from the perspective of Nick as he walks among ancient Romans in a secluded Eastern European town in the present day, and college student Kirsten Chapman as she appears unstuck in time across a span of time periods like Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie or Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, the truth behind the corporation’s purpose is slowly revealed.  You won’t find a lot of complexity in the time travel elements here, which makes this appealing for the most casual sci-fi reader.  Fans of any Star Trek or Doctor Who time travel story will be familiar with the rules here.

Continue reading

Ghost and Mrs Muir A

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

It’s no secret that here at borg.com, we’re big fans of Halloween.  And there’s nothing I like better than a great ghost story.  But if creepy and gory aren’t really your thing, TCM is offering up some of the best in lighter-hearted classic haunts tonight as part of its Ghost Story Thursdays month-long series.

Included in our epic round-up of this year’s Halloween movies on TV, tonight’s two classics feature some of our favorite performers in roles you might have missed–but should be sure to catch as they air back-to-back.  And if tonight happens to be Date Night at your house, you might choose to stay in and snuggle up on the couch, because these two films also feature some of our favorite on-screen romances.

Portrait of Jennie original movie poster   Ghost and Mrs Muir original movie poster

First up at 7:00 p.m. Central is 1948’s Portrait of Jennie, starring Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane, Shadow of a Doubt) and Jennifer Jones (Song of Bernadette, Duel in the Sun), with a masterful performance by Ethel Barrymore.  Cotten and Jones play star-crossed lovers whose sweet romance bridges time, death, and logic.  Cotten plays Eben Adams, a down-on-his-luck artist in the Depression, whose life is changed forever when he meets a young girl in Central Park.  The mysterious and beguiling Jennie becomes his muse, infusing his artwork with passion and talent.  But who is she?  Jennie has a secret, and her haunting story will consume Eben, until both lovers are driven to extremes in their quest to be together.

If you’re already a fan of the film, you’ll enjoy TCM’s write-up about it here–but it’s full of spoilers, so wait until you’ve seen it.  Based on the novel by Robert Nathan, Portrait of Jennie, with its haunting heroine and epic romance, could easily have been dark and gothic, but it’s actually anything but.  There’s just enough ghostly mystery to keep the Halloween thrill alive, but the overall tone is more sweet than scary.  In fact, this supernatural romance even made our Best Fantasy list.  It’s a must-see.

Portrait of Jennie B

Here is the original trailer for Portrait of Jennie:

Continue reading

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

If there’s one thing these lists demonstrate, it’s that great fantasy stories are enduring.  All four of us have named several films that reach deep into the literary and oral tradition of myths, legends, traditional bedtime stories, and classics of fantasy literature.  It’s not surprising that what makes a great fantasy movie is the same stuff that makes a great story, period: amazing worlds, epic quests, doomed romance, and soaring imagination.  More than half the movies on my list are direct retellings of well-known tales, and all of them are adapted in one way or another from earlier source material–be that a novel from the 1990s or a play by William Shakespeare, or anything in between.

It’s neither accidental nor surprising that my personal favorites list went this way, but there are plenty of contenders that just narrowly missed the cut and are worthy of mention, at least in passing.  I’ve been thoroughly impressed by recent films Stardust (adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel) and Prince Caspian (from CS Lewis’s beloved Chronicles of Narnia), but I haven’t seen either film often enough to declare it a favorite… yet.  Likewise, two classics from my childhood deserve a nod, and would have made the cut if this were a Favorite 15: the glorious Jim Henson/Brian Froud collaboration The Dark Crystal; and Willow, which is just as good as any other high fantasy film made in the last century.  Lastly, because I feel someone should mention it, yet it somehow gets overlooked whenever we start talking about great fantasy films, is one of the few mermaid movies ever made (surprisingly enough), 1984’s fantastic classic Splash.  It gets overshadowed by Hanks’s Big from a few years later, but it really is a wonderful movie that deserves to be better remembered for its contribution to the genre.

But. You’re looking for the ones that did make the cut, so here is my winnowed-down list of my ten alltime favorite fantasy films:

1.  The Princess Bride
Art has suggested that we define great fantasy by the age at which we’re introduced to our favorites, and I tend to agree.  This Rob Reiner masterpiece came out when I was thirteen, which is the ideal time to experience this wickedly smart, hilarious, and romantic fantasy romp.  But viewers can enjoy it at any age!  There are no roles in film history to rival Carey Elwes as Westley/The Dread Pirate Roberts or Mandy Patinkin’s iconic Inigo Montoya, but Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Billy Crystal, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk, and all the others turn in perfect performances, too. T he memorable scenes and imminently-quotable catchphrases ensure this film’s status as a fantasy legend.

2.  Ever After
When you’re a fairy tale fan, the golden goose (so to speak) is, of course, Cinderella.  No other tale so captures our love of the genre and our hope for true love to lift us from the drudgery of our daily lives.  Everyone knows this story, and making it fresh and new and wonderful is hard!  But Ever After was up to the challenge, and more.  Set in the intensely naturalistic setting of early Renaissance France, this adaptation builds on the basic rags-to-riches framework to deliver a complex and deeply satisfying tale of smart lovers who complement one another, yet are set apart by a nearly unconquerable divide.  Also, it doesn’t hurt that Dougray Scott makes for a Prince Charming any woman would swoon over.

3.  A Knight’s Tale
Carrying on with the argument that retellings fit in the fantasy genre, magic or not, I’m sneaking one of my very favorite movies–period–onto this list.  Turned off by the truly dreadful previews, I nearly missed this one–and I’m so glad I didn’t.  From the ensemble cast (Heath Ledger!  Rufus Sewell!  Paul Bettany!  That guy from Firefly!) to the wacky rock soundtrack, Chaucer has never been so much fun (and he was no wet blanket to begin with).

4.  Mary Poppins
No film explores the power of childhood make-believe adventures better than this Disney classic.  Who didn’t want their toys to put themselves away?  Or spend an afternoon popping in and out of chalk drawings, riding magical carousel horses and winning the derby?  Or laugh themselves into flight?  A spoonful of sugar and the confident wink of a magical nanny makes it all possible.

5.  Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
Tales of King Arthur and the Holy Grail have been centerpieces of Western fantasy as long as we’ve been telling stories.  The third, and arguably the best, installment of the Indiana Jones franchise brings that classic quest to the screen better than any film, ever.  (I’m talking to YOU, da Vinci Code.  You too, Excalibur. *shudders*)  (The second-best film adaptation of the King Arthur legend is, of course, the 1960s classic Camelot with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.)

6.  Portrait of Jennie
For pure romance and starcrossed lovers, you can’t ask for more than William Dieterle’s sweet Depression-era tale of a starving artist and the doomed model who shapes his career, and his life.  It has all the makings of a gothic mystery–but the tender performances of Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones make this instead a sweeping story of the power of love to reach beyond time and death.  Fans of Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve’s Somewhere in Time should look this one up.  (And fans of Portrait of Jennie should look up the marvelous children’s novel Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillippa Pearce.)

7.  Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban
The best installment of one of the most beloved fantasy series of our age.  Need I say more?

8.  Beauty and the Beast
No one was surprised when this Disney adaptation of Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s classic French fairy tale became the first-ever animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (and thus changed the awards structure forever).  The lavish production, with its marvelous soundtrack, brought this tale as old as time to life with all the wonder and beauty we expect in our fairy tale films.

9.  Arabian Nights
I have expressed my love for these stories on borg.com before, and this made-for-TV miniseries starring Mili Avatal absolutely swept me away.  The production is gorgeous and epic, with a bold and brilliant cast that includes fine performances by Jason Scott Lee, John Leguizamo, Rufus Sewell (!), and Andy Serkis.  It offers up all our Arabian Nights favorites: Ali Baba, Aladdin, and, of course, Scheherazade and her deeply disturbed husband, played with heartbreaking madness by Dougray Scott (who, really, we could stand to see A LOT more of.  Just sayin’.).

10.  Much Ado About Nothing
This is last on my list not because it’s my least favorite of the ten; far from it–it’s actually my alltime favorite movie!  But of the ten, it’s the one that feels the least like fantasy to me, although it has neither more nor less magic than The Princess Bride, Ever After, or A Knight’s Tale.  Directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh at the height of his early career, this utterly perfect adaptation of Shakespeare’s lusty romantic comedy is set against the breathtakingly beautiful Tuscan countryside and features fantastic performances by Emma Thompson, Brian Blessed, Kate Beckinsale, Robert Sean Leonard, Michael Keaton, and Denzel Washington.  I want to step inside this movie and live there, every time I watch Much Ado–and if that’s not the very definition of fantasy, than I don’t know what is.