Beauty and the Beast (1946)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1946)
Article #30 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 4-15-2001
Posting date: 8-28-2001

A merchant who loses his way spends the night in an enchanted castle, but finds himself under a sentence of death from the beast that lives there when he tries to pluck a rose from a bush. He is allowed to return home to settle his affairs, and his daughter Belle agrees to take his place at the castle. The beast keeps Belle prisoner until she agrees to marry him.

Visually, this movie is a sumptuous feast; the enchanted castle, with its candelabras on arms and moving faces in the stoneworks, is one of the most stunning creations in the annals of fantasy films. There are visions that stick in the memory; the beast wandering through the hallways, clothes in disarray, smoke rising from his fingers after he has just made a kill, is a wonderful sight. It also contains one of my very favorite special effects moments in cinema; when Belle gives a string of pearls to one of her sisters, the sister immediately tosses it to the ground, where you notice it has turned into a string of ugly rotten vegetables (at least that’s what I think they are; whatever they are, it looks disgusting). I don’t know how they pulled off this trick (it may have been nothing more than sleight of hand), but it’s done so smoothly it seems like pure magic. Jean Cocteau has certainly directed an amazing movie here.

However, I do have a few problems; for some reason, I don’t really lose myself in the story. I don’t know if there’s something about this movie in particular, or something about French cinema in general (I have problems with a lot of French cinema), but I always find myself at an arm’s length from the action. I even have more problems with the ending…

SPOILERS AHEAD

I can’t say that I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what a handsome prince would look like, but the one into which the beast transforms at the end of this movie is NOT what I would envision; to me, he looks for all the world like Liberace. And Belle’s curious behavior at the end of the movie where she responds to each of the prince’s statements in distracted monosyllables just baffles me: I’ve read that she’s supposed to be flirting, but it looks to me like she’s either forgotten her lines or doing her best to keep from laughing. For me, it makes for a disappointing ending to an otherwise brilliant movie.

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