The Beauty of the Devil (1950)

Article #1347 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-21-2004
Posting Date: 4-20-2005
Directed by Rene Clair
Featuring Michel Simon, Gerard Philipe, Nicole Besnard

Faust is tempted by Mephistopheles to sell his soul to the devil.

The Faust story has the potential to be ponderous, what with its musings on the nature of good and evil and the existence of the soul. However, if any director has the ability to avoid that problem, it would be Rene Clair, who even when he is serious, is never heavy. This is the story of Faust as a comic tragedy, with half of the movie dedicated to Mephistopheles using every trick in the book to get Faust to sign the contract, and then having to use every means at his disposal to try to keep Faust from repenting. His first trick is a fine example of the machinations to come; he turns Faust into a young man free of charge, but when Faust is forced to return to his home to get some money, he is mistaken for a thief by his servant, and given that the old Faust is nowhere to be found, is arrested for the murder and robbery of his older self. Of course, Faust can call on Mephistopheles to help him out of this predicament, but will he? To give away any more of this story would ruin the effect, but the ensuing battle of wills and minds is witty, clever and engaging, and the performances of Michel Simon and Gerard Philipe (who play Faust and Mephistopheles, though not necessarily in that order) are great. It works itself up to a brilliantly ironic ending which might actually get you to wonder just who the tragic hero is in this story. This would make a great companion piece to Murnau’s FAUST; both movies are brilliant, but they also represent almost polar opposite takes on the same story. This one is also highly recommended.


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