Parents Terribles, Les (1948)

Parents Terribles, Les (1948)

“No mother is a friend to her son.”

An overly possessive mother (Yvonne de Bray) reacts with alarm when she learns that her grown son (Jean Marais) has spent the night with his new girlfriend (Josette Day) — but matters get even more complicated when it turns out de Bray’s husband (Marcel Andre) has been having a sugar-daddy affair with Day, and de Bray’s sister (Gabrielle Dorziat) decides to intervene on behalf of everyone.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Family Problems
  • Father and Child
  • French Films
  • Jean Cocteau Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Play Adaptation

Jean Cocteau’s fourth film as a director — after The Blood of a Poet (1930), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and the non-GFTFF-listed The Eagle With Two Heads (1948) — was this adaptation of his own 1938 play, featuring much of the same cast that performed in its 1946 Paris revival. While Cocteau chose not to “open up” his play (it takes place in just two indoor locations), he did strategically employ close-ups and other cinematic techniques to provide a more intimate look at his characters’ interactions and emotions:

As always with Cocteau’s work, there are numerous disturbing themes and topics at play — from de Bray’s unhealthy distress at learning her son won’t be coming home to her (she has to be reminded, “Michel is no longer a child, he’s a man.”), to the revelation that Marais has fallen in love with his father’s mistress (who is herself unaware of this relationship until a key moment in the storyline).

Meanwhile, the meddling of “Aunt Leo” (Dorziat) hints at yet more weird dynamics in this self-proclaimed “caravan” of a household, especially given she was once romantically interested in Andre herself.

Most impressive among the cast is Marais (Cocteau’s real-life lover and partner), whose performance as “The Beast” is likely his best-known portrayal on-screen. It’s interesting to see him teaming up once again with Day (“Beauty”) in a more realistic pairing:

However, while Cocteau fans will certainly want to check this one out, it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jean Marais as Michel
  • Michael Kelber’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look. Listed as a film with Historical Relevance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Parents Terribles, Les (1948)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Strange (and often tedious) domestic melodrama – with actors in roles of little consequence. My interest began to drop early on, when de Bray reminds Marais: “I carried you to bed til you were 11.” (YIKES!)

    The semi-hysterical development of the affairs of the heart that follow becomes tiresome.

    Of the actors, André and Dorziat are allowed to maintain their dignity (and a bit more depth) more or less throughout but the storyline is still working against them.

    This was originally a play?! People actually went to the theater to see this?!!!

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