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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH (1947)

More Featured Player than Star thru the ‘30s, Joan Bennett found her true calling after marrying indie producer Walter Wanger in 1940, suddenly finding herself the indispensable muse in five films for three great emigré directors, Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir & Max Ophüls. The Renoir, the only one not produced by Wagner, was a critical & commercial bust, and ended Renoir’s Hollywood career. Yet, it’s a rather fascinating clunker. Bennett, stuck in an unhappy marriage to blinded artist Charles Bickford, gets involved with Robert Ryan, a wounded vet warily engaged to a nice, bland, blonde. Ryan convinces himself that Bickford isn’t blind, but using the handicap to keep hold of his wife. But the couple’s Strindbergian co-dependency goes much deeper than that. Renoir, after four films in the States, two with rural American flavor, two set in Hollywood backlot Europe, tries something else here., a cross between French poetic-realism & film noir, relocated to some isolated American coastal town. We’re not so far from his great success with LA BÊTE HUMAINE/’38. (You can almost see Jean Gabin & Simon Simone going from that film to this one.) But we’ll never know how close he got, since BEACH, after a lousy preview, was reshot, hacked and generally dumped on the market in truncated form. What’s left doesn’t really work, the editing is particularly harmful, consistently cutting against the tidal rhythm Renoir seems to be aiming for. But it’s often handsome to look at, with strange underwater dream sequences and lots of thematic interest for Renoir fanciers.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Too bad the DVD doesn’t come with an alternate French-Language audio-track. The artificial tone of the dialogue might sound better that way, letting us read the translation. (As well as killing a few unwanted laughs.)

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