The 1971 film Jennifer On My Mind opens with a lengthy montage of black-and-white photographs of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. These, the film tells us, are the men and women who came to America with nothing and who fought and struggled to have something. The film itself deals with the grandchildren of those immigrants, who, as opposed to their ancestors, now have everything and who seem to be determined to reduce it all down to nothing.
24 year-old Marcus Rottner (Michael Brandon) would appear to have everything. Following the death of his father, Marcus has inherited the fortune that his immigrant grandfather earned. (The ghost of his grandfather shows up at one point and smokes a joint.) Marcus will never have to work a day in his life, owns a nice apartment, and can go to Europe whenever he feels like it. However, Marcus does have one problem: his girlfriend Jennifer (Tally Walker) just died of a heroin overdose in his living room. Now, Marcus has to try to dispose of the body without anyone discovering what has happened.
The film alternates between showing Marcus’s attempts to get ride of Jennifer’s body and flashbacks to his romance with her. We see how he first met Jennifer in Venice and how he fell in love with her. Like Marcus, Jennifer comes from a rich family. Her parents are alive but we never see them. (Reportedly, scenes were filmed that featured Kim Hunter as Jennifer’s mother but they were cut after a disastrous preview.) As she leaves Venice, Jennifer tells Marcus to visit her back in the states.
Which is just what Marcus does. Marcus and Jennifer’s relationship plays out like a romantic comedy, except for the fact that Jennifer doesn’t really seem to care that much for Marcus. After Jennifer jumps off a roof, Marcus takes her back to Venice and tries to recreate their earlier romance. However, Jennifer just wants to go back to New York…
About ten minutes into the film, I nearly stopped watching Jennifer On My Mind. Both Marcus and Jennifer seemed like such unlikable characters that I couldn’t imagine spending a full 90 minutes with them. The fact that they were both rich and spoiled didn’t help.
But I kept watching because the first part of the film was set in Venice and I love Venice! Watching those scenes reminded me of visiting Italy the summer after I graduated from high school. It was a great time and, despite how I felt about Marcus and Jennifer, the film still brought back some nice memories.
However, then Marcus and Jennifer returned to New York and, since I don’t really care about New York the way that I care about Venice, I again found myself tempted to stop watching. However, it was around this time that I started to realize that Michael Brandon was actually giving a pretty good performance in the role of Marcus. So, I decided to keep giving the film a chance.
And then the ghost of Marcus’s grandfather showed up. And then, the film gave us a scene of Jennifer hanging out with the two traveling “minstrels.” And I thought to myself, “This is getting unbearably cutesy…”
But then, Robert De Niro showed up! That’s right — Jennifer On My Mind is an early De Niro movie. When Marcus hails a cab and asks for a ride to Long Island, the taxi driver is played by none other than Robert De Niro. And while De Niro is only in the film for a few minutes, he totally steals those few minutes. He plays a “gypsy” cab driver in this film and, as he drives Marcus to Long Island, he rambles about his sister, his drugs, and his fear of driving Marcus to see a bunch of “squares.” De Niro is such an eccentric and energetic presence that he brings the whole film to life.
After De Niro’s scene, there was only 30 minutes left in the film and I thought to myself, “Okay, I can give this another 30 minutes…”
Written by Love Story‘s Erich Segal and directed by Pretty Poison‘s Noel Black, Jennifer On My Mind is an uneven but oddly watchable film. If you’re looking for quirky love story … well, I really can’t recommend Jennifer On My Mind because it never really convinces you that Marcus and Jennifer are in love. For the most part, their relationship seems to be one of convenience. Jennifer wants drugs and Marcus can afford them. Marcus wants a girlfriend and Jennifer is willing to pretend. Instead, Jennifer On My Mind is more like a parody of true romance. Marcus spends the entire film wanting Jennifer’s body and now that he has it, he has to find a way to get rid of it.
It’s undeniably uneven; for every scene that works, there’s another one that doesn’t. But, at the same time, it’s undeniably watchable. Plus, you get an early performance from Robert De Niro!
Jennifer On My Mind is currently available to viewed on Netflix.