Tag Archives: Joan Bennett

The Woman on the Beach (Jean Renoir, USA, 1947)

The_Woman_on_the_Beach_(1947_film)_poster

 

Scott (Robert Ryan) is a coastguard who’s boat was torpedoed during the war and is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He’s got a beautiful girlfriend, Eve (Nan Leslie), and they’re planning to marry. But he´s not quite well and they decide to wait. Big mistake. One day he meets a woman on the beach, Peggy (Joan Bennett). She’s no good. She’s married to a blind painter, Tod (Charles Bickford) and has already cheated on him once before.  For Scott, meeting Peggy is like coming out of a fog and into a compulsion, and is beautifully visualised for us by Renoir (see below).

out-of-the-fog

For Peggy meeting Scott is… well who knows for sure. The film leaves it deliciously ambiguous. Sometimes the film indicates that he’s just some bit of juicy meat to her. Other times, a means out of an increasingly self destructive and interdependent relationship with her husband. As you can see below, she admits to cheating on her husband before: ‘I’m a tramp, say it. ‘And whilst she admits to being a tramp she certainly makes no apologies for it. Watching Bennett, perhaps the surliest female presence in all of American cinema, is a pleasure all film noir lovers will recognise.

In Jean Renoir: A Biography, Pascal Mérigeau writes that, ´Renoir knew  that he wouldn´t be able, as he´d confirm after the project, to attempt something that I´d wanted to do for a long time: a film about what you´d  call sex today..but envisioned from the point of view of the purely physical,¨and that it would be impossible ¨to tell a story about love in which the reasons for attraction between the different parties were purely physical, a story in which sentiment would play no part at all¨ (location 11636, Kindle edition).

The film has a discourse on art by someone who should know: Renoir fils learned  a thing or two about it from his father and his friends: the painter who can no longer see, who’s vision is entirely encapsulated in paintings increasingly gaining in value because he can no longer make them, who’s tied to the past in those works and thus also imprisons she whom he loves most, a woman who might only be staying with him for what those paintings are worth…it’s almost too much as a plot though Bickford is wonderful as the blind but still controlling husband, his gaze almost always in the right place so it rouses suspicions as to whether he really is blind.

The nightmare sequences at the beginning and end are wonderfully modernist. The first one, which  starts the film is below:

…and useful to compare to the one near the end:

 

Renoir is extraordinary in creating a mood, a sense of physical compulsion in which questions of morality are over-ridden by desires that can’t be fully comprehended. Mérigeau writes, ‘there´s  nothing to please a viewer who may have been attracted to the idea of seeing a film noir. Although it truly is a film noir, it contains no crime other than those that might exist in the minds of the characters, who need to get rid of their traumas, obsessions, and fantasies if they are ever  to escape their deep, adherent isolation’ (location 11738)

The ending makes no sense to me. It is perhaps arrived at too quickly and I plan on looking into the production history of the film at a later point (and due to the wonders of social media Adrian Martin has kindly pointed out to me that Janet Bergstrom has written a dossier on the troubled production, Janet Bergstrom, ‘Oneiric Cinema: The Woman on the BeachFilm History 11 (1) (1999) 114-125) ..But I loved it in spite of that and plan to see it again.

The Woman on the Beach was Renoir’s last American film, one in which he says, ‘I wanted to proceed more by suggestion than by demonstration: a film of acts never carried out..This gives the film an ambiguity that well-complements its intensity: strong feelings not quite understood but carried on into actions, many of them later regretted.

 

It´s a film Renoir tried to forget, without ever quite disowning. It´s certainly imperfect. But it´s also a very beautiful film, a hypnotic presentation of a lulling into sexual desire and physical compulsion that deserves to be seen again and again in spite of its faults

 

José Arroyo

Bibliography:

R. B.Jones, The Lives of Robert Ryan

Pascal Mérigeau: Jean Renoir: A Biography, RatPac Press, 2016, translated by Bruce Benderson with a Foreword by Martin Scorsese.

A note on the ´33 and ´49 versions of Little Women

The Greta Gerwig Little Women needs to be great because the Cukor-Hepburn one is perfect. Plus having the additional bonus of being, along with King Kong and Mae West, the sociological phenomenon of 1933. It´s a pity it´s not more seen:

 

Watching the ´49 version of Little Women only made me appreciate the 1933 Cukor-Hepburn version more. The 1933 version roots it in the Civil War, privation, self-sacrifice, kindness, family, sisterhood, complicated interpersonal relationships, and with a kind of yankee fierceness that is completely lacking in the sop of the ´49,. To see June Allyson after Hepburn is merely to see lack, where Hepburn was romantic, tomboyish, determined, longing to be an artist and a free woman, Allyson simply lowers her voice and juts her jaw. And even with that she´s better than Peter Lawford. A starry cast almost entirely wasted, Mary Astor certainly is, though Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O´Brian have their moments (if only a few). Comparing the two is like comparing the illustrated comic of the novel to the novel itself. Same plot, more gloss, more shine, less depth and way less charm. I´d forgotten how important the Christmas setting is to all versions

 

José Arroyo