By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 10, 2011)
Beauty and the Beast (1946) – Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Out of the myriad movie adaptations of Mme. Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy tale, Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version remains the most soulful and poetic. This probably had something to do with the fact that it was made by a director who literally had the soul of a poet (Cocteau’s day job, in case you didn’t know). Jean Marais (Cocteau’s favorite leading man, onscreen and off) gives an immensely affecting performance as The Beast who is paralyzed by unrequited passion for the beautiful Belle (Josette Day). This version is a surreal fairy tale that was not necessarily made with the kids in mind (especially with the psycho-sexual subtexts). The timeless moral of the original tale, however, is still simple enough for a child to grasp; it’s what’s inside that counts.
The film is a triumph of production design, with an inventive visual style that continues to influence film makers (an example would be Guillermo del Toro, who wore the Cocteau influence all over his sleeve in his 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth). Criterion’s new Blu-ray reissue of the 2002 restoration really brings Henri Alekan’s stunning B & W photography to the fore.
The disc also gives you the option to run Philip Glass’ synchronous opera, La Belle et la Bete, as an alternate soundtrack. Extras include a fascinating interview with (the late) Alekan, who shares memories while visiting a few of the original shooting locations (the little house where Belle and her family “lived”, remains amazingly intact).