Blog Archive

Friday, February 2, 2007

Beauty and the Beast (1946)

La Belle et la Bête, Jean Cocteau’s version of Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont timeless tale, is one of the most purely enchanting films I’ve ever seen. It’s dreamlike qualities draw the viewer into a world of magic and wonder with out a singing teapot in sight. I really enjoyed the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast but now having finally seen this classic 1946 film and I must say the French really know how to tell a good fairy tale. As Disney-fied versions go their animated version is actually quite good (Hunchback of Notre Dame being one I can't even watch without cringing) but it left out much from the original story. Now even Jean Cocteau took some liberties with this classic tale but it is ruthlessly faithful in many areas, and it's because of this that I think it is the superior version, and only the wonderful songs in the Disney film make that one stand out in comparison.

Belle, played by a radiant Josette Day, is one of four children; she has two wicked sisters, Félicie and Adélaïde (who seem like they stepped right of Cinderella), and Ludovic, her brother, who is a bit of a wastrel who spends much of his time hanging out with his friend, and fellow scoundrel, Avenant. The once rich family has fallen on hard times, much to the chagrin of the Belle’s two sisters who believe they should have been married to Dukes and Princes, and Belle has been reduced to being basically a scullery maid. She is not forced into this position it’s just that if she doesn’t none of the work will get done, as her sisters spend all there time complaining about their lot in life while the brother drinks and loafs around with Avenant. The “friend” is constantly pushing himself on Belle and urging her to marry him, she begs off saying she must stay and help her father, but the real reason is plainly that he is a colossal jerk.
Then good news comes, a merchant ship believed lost has come to port, and with the goods on board the family may be rich once again. When the father readies to depart Félicie and Adélaïde bombard him with request for dresses, jewels, and even a monkey. He asks Belle what she would like and all she wishes for is a simple rose as none grow in the area. Unfortunately when he arrives at the port city creditors have seized his goods and he must return home through the dark foggy forest at night, as he cannot even afford a single nights lodging. He is soon lost as high winds besiege him, and when the end seems near for the poor man trees magically part revealing a large castle. He walks his horse onto the castle grounds and is startled as the stable doors open on their own and his horse steps in freely. He calls out but gets no response. He approaches the castle and the main doors open onto a long hallway lined with candelabras. This the point where I would see about getting my horse back as the candelabras are held by arms that just jut out from the walls, and they point and guide him further into the castle. Belle’s father is a far braver man than I as he hits sits down at a dinner table that has an arm sticking out of it’s center, and which pours a glass of wine for him. He falls asleep in the chair under the watchful eyes of the castle’s living (and very creepy) statuary. Come morning he wakes up and wanders the castle grounds once again calling out for his host, it’s then he spots a rose push and remembers Belle’s wish, but the moment he plucks it the Beast appears and tells him he was free to take anything he liked but the roses as they are his most cherished possession (you’d think it would have been a good idea to maybe post a sign or something), and now for this breach the poor man must die. When he begs for his life and mentions he has three daughters to care for the Beast offers him a way out, he can leave now and send one of his daughters back to take his place, but if none want to die in his stead he must return on his own. He is given a magical horse (it is revealed later that the castle doesn’t quite exist completely in our world, and one wonders how the father stumbled upon it) that will take him too and from the Beast’s castle.
The horse quickly carries him home and there he regales his family with this latest turn of events. The sisters quickly blame Belle for this as she requested the rose in the first place, of course the father had no intention of sacrificing any of his children he only came back to say good-bye to them, but Belle is insistent that she takes his place, while Ludovic and Avenant want to slay the Beast. The father tells them the Beast is much too powerful, and then proceeds to pass out from some feverish illness. Taking this opportunity Belle mounts the magical horse and rides to the castle of the Beast, but instead of being killed and eaten she is made mistress of the house and any whim she has will be answered. She is provided a lavish room with a magical mirror that allows her to see anything she wishes, and the only stipulation is that every night at
7:00 when she dines the Beast will appear. Each night he does and on each night he asks, “Belle will you marry me?” She of course declines the offer but slowly her feelings towards horrible looking creature turns from fear, to pity, to a deep caring. It is a lonely existence in the castle, though she has come to really look forward to her dinners with the Beast, but it isn’t enough as she misses her father and wishes to see him one more time. The Beast tells her that if she leaves and does not come back that he will surely die. She promises to return in one weeks time, and the Beast, to prove his faith in her, he gives her the gold key to his treasure trove and source of his power. The Beast than gives her one of his gloves which when put on will teleport her back home instantly, and though it be night here in the castle it will be day at her families home.
She bids the Beast adieu, puts on the glove, is transported back home (she comes through the wall of her bedroom in a rather cool in camera affect), and then places the key and glove on her nightstand. Of course not all are glad of her return, and upon seeing the bejeweled gown and tiara that Belle is sporting the sisters instantly start plotting against her. The two wicked sisters suck Ludovic and Avenant into their plot promising they will all be rich if they can get the Beast spoils. After rubbing onions into their eyes to work up some tears, the girls run to Belle and tell her how much they love her and can not bare the thought of her leaving again, and that they will die of she does (this the only part in the film where my sympathies for Belle waned, as anybody gullible enough to believe these two women deserves what ever she gets). While hugging and crying they manage to steal the gold key and get Belle to promise she will stay with them a little longer. Unfortunately the hiccup in their plans is that none of them know how to get to the Beasts castle, but lucky for them the lonely Beast has grown despondent for his missing Belle and has sent the magical horse to retrieve her. Avenant and Ludovic, golden key in hand, mount the horse and ride off to rob and slay the Beast. Unbeknownst of these events Belle checks on the Beast with the magic mirror and sees him lying still near the castles pond. She puts on the glove and instantly finds herself in her bedroom, but quickly realizes she has forgot the key, and she pops back home to get it. She frantically searches the room, but to no avail as the key is no where to be found, so she puts that glove back and rushes to find the ailing Beast.
Meanwhile Ludovic and Avenant arrive at the castle and spot the treasure room. When Ludovic sticks in the gold key the door is infused with a glow, and Avenant yanks it out fearing that if they open the door it may set off a trap (okay if you’re not going to use the key what was the big deal about getting it?), and so the scale the walls and peak down through the skylight. Below them is a glorious golden hoard, treasure worthy of a dragon, but no such serpentine creature guards it, just a statue of Diana goddess of the hunt, and so Avenant smashes the glass of the skylight and has Ludovic lower him down.
Over by the pond Belle finds the dying Beast who tells her that now that she has returned he can die happy. Belle will have none of that talk and tells him how much she loves him, and that she cannot live without him, that she will gladly be his wife.
Back in the treasure room the statue of Diana turns and fire her bow, and nails Avenant right in the back. He falls to the ground and as he dies he transforms into the visage of the beast.
Belle is startled when her dying Beast suddenly turns into a handsome prince. (Jean Marias of course played the Beast, Avenant, and Prince Charming). At first she is quite taken aback by this change and comments, “You remind me of a friend of my brother,” and not as if that is a good thing. Belle has realized that the beauty within is much more important than any outward appearance. The Beast then tells Belle that he will now take her to his home, and they ascend into the clouds. Where they are going is left to the imagination.

Now the one thing you won’t get from my rather long-winded review is just how beautiful this glorious black and white film is. From the spooky forest, to the haunted halls of the castle the look of the film never ceases to be anything but a perfect fairy tale, with some of my favorite moments of Belle running in slow motion as if in a dream like state, and her letting the Beast drink from her cupped hands. I just can’t recommend this film enough.

No comments: