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Saturday, February 22, 2014

LA BEAUTE DU DIABLE / THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL (1950)

The great years for writer/director René Clair came & went with the late silent/early Talkie period. After that, his charm, wit & flights of surrealistic fancy played out on such a smooth surface, little could grow on them; the films retain pleasure, but no resonance. This variation on the Faust legend, his second pic upon returning to France after the war, is a big production, with grand designs via Léon Barsacq, but the ideas feel secondhand, post-war allegory on greed & ‘the bomb,’ that plays with little consequence. Michel Simon, a ham actor whose occasional genius goes missing here*, starts out as Faust, the aged scientist/philosopher, but he soon swaps bodies with Gérard Philipe's boyish Devil which allows Simon to overact wildly as Mephistopheles for most of the film. It all feels closer to Offenbach’s TALES OF HOFFMAN (out via Powell/Pressburger in ‘51) than to Goethe. Nothing inherently wrong there, but it’s one of those films where the players seem to be having a jollier time than the intended audience. (Sometimes called BEAUTY AND THE DEVIL.)

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *Simon’s genius returned on his next pic, the sublime LA POISON/’51, Sacha Guitry’s fatal philosophical farce, yet to show on Stateside DVD.

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