Beauty and the Beast (1946)

“I disgust you. You find me repulsive.”

Synopsis:
When a man (Marcel Andre) is sentenced to death by a beast (Jean Marais) after plucking a rose in his garden, his loyal daughter (Josette Day) — who has refused to marry a local suitor (also Jean Marais) — agrees to go and live with the beast in exchange for her father’s life.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Jean Cocteau’s legendary, increasingly popular adult adaptation of Madame Le Prince de Beaumont’s classic fairytale” is “the cinema’s most ‘poetic’ work, with much of its charm coming from the fact that it is presented so simply, without self-indulgence or pretense.” He points out it’s full of “hauntingly beautiful, dreamlike imagery” — including “the merchant’s terrifying visit to the Beast’s dark, forbidding castle, in which statues move and unattached arms extend from the wall to hold candelabra; and Beauty’s arrival at the castle, in which she floats/walks trancelike through the various rooms and hallways”. He notes that Cocteau “was exploring ‘the reality of the unreal’, and only through his surreal imagery did he believe he could convey the precise emotions, feelings, and atmosphere that he believed represented absolute truth”. He argues that while “Josette Day is perfectly cast as one of literature’s great heroines: innocent, strong of character, honest, loyal, exquisite, and virtuous”, “less impressive is Jean Marais” who “plays the obnoxious, foolish rapscallion Avenant, whom Beauty loves; the wimpish, self-pitying, though elegant-looking Beast; and the worst of all, the effeminate Prince into whom the Beast turns at the end”.

Peary elaborates on this and other aspects of the film in his Cult Movies book, where he writes that “first time viewers are invariably impressed and surprised that such an unusual film exists; that Cocteau dared to make a fairy tale without drastically changing the content of the original story; that he dared make a film with ‘art’ and not box office success as the ultimate goal; and that he dared approach his film as a poet rather than as a typical movie director.” All of this rings true: it remains a genuine pleasure to revisit this film, despite its shortfalls — which include (for me) a storyline that seems to lag at times, perhaps due to Cocteau’s emphasis on lingering for atmospheric effects. On that note, Peary points out that cinematographer Henri Alekan’s “camera rarely moves, yet within his fixed frame comes a mesmerizing panorama of movements…, shadows, darkness, the clear white sky, and characters who, set against that sky, are filmed as if they were moving statues.”

Regarding Peary’s frustration with the Beast’s transformation into “a human being who looks like Avenant with a permanent”, I can’t say I share it. Peary’s assertion that “Beauty suddenly becomes flirtatious, as if all along she had only pretended to be an innocent” is an unfair assessment of her piqued romantic interest; why does Peary begrudge her happiness at seeing a beloved companion transformed into a human who she can more easily envision as a viable life partner? Meanwhile, Peary’s fixation on the prince’s “effeminate” nature and hair perm are uncharitable at best (his hairdo is certainly no better or worse than that of Avenant). Peary’s ending statement in his Cult Movies review — “We aren’t pleased by any means. This transformation, the worst scene in the picture, almost ruins what went before it: a true king has been demoted to a prissy prince.” — is simply not true. For shame, Peary! (especially given that Marais was Cocteau’s real-life lover). Allow this fairy tale to end the way one might imagine it to in its original form, as intended by Cocteau.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Visually stunning sets and costumes
  • Creative special effects

  • Henri Alekan’s “splendid photography”

  • Georges Auric’s score

Must See?
Yes, as an unusual and visually mesmerizing cult classic.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Beauty and the Beast (1946)”

  1. In total agreement with yourself; a stone cold classic that ends just right … it’s a fairy tale for heavens sake.

    This is THE version of the tale on film; the bombastic, all too American 1991 can go spit. Overrated.

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