The fifth and final American film for one of France's greatest directors, Jean Renoir, THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH is an accomplished piece of filmmaking that probes the relationship of three characters--their past, present, and future together. Although none of the three commits a crime, the
movie is suffused in film noir atmosphere. Ryan, a veteran Coast Guard lieutenant haunted by combat nightmares, happens on Bennett one day while walking along the beach. At first he treats her badly, but later he finds himself very attracted to her, despite the fact that he is already married to
the loving Leslie. Eventually Ryan is introduced to Bennett's husband, Bickford, a blind, aging painter who is fed up with his life. The deeper Ryan falls in love with Bennett, the more he learns about her past. Something of a gold digger, she married Bickford when he was a wealthy, promising
artist. One day, in a rage, Bennett threw a glass at her husband, blinding him and ruining both his career and her dreams for a champagne and caviar life as a socialite. Ryan grows increasingly afraid that Bickford suspects him of romancing Bennet; finally, the Coast Guardsman is no longer even
convinced that Bickford is blind. To test the painter's sight, Ryan leads him toward a cliff and lets him walk over the edge. Bickford miraculously survives, but Ryan is now sure of the painter's blindness. His emotions in disarray, Ryan returns to his wife and the safety of the boatbuilding yard
run by her father. Later, however, he gets a phone call from a panicked Bennett, who begs him to come to her house. When Ryan arrives, he finds the house in flames and Bickford destroying his past by throwing his paintings into the conflagration. Bennett helps Bickford to safety, and Ryan,
realizing that his affair with Bennett is over, returns to Leslie.
Not surprisingly, American audiences in 1947 were less than responsive to THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH, unable (or unwilling) to grasp the subtleties and complex characterizations of Ryan, Bennett, and Bickford. What appears initially to be a film noir involving a romantic triangle and murder turns out
to be something completely different. Rather than becoming a femme fatale, Bennett remains an unhappy but devoted wife; far from the standard evil husband, Bickford has been emotionally crippled by his inability to paint; and Ryan is simply too paranoid to keep his murderous fantasies from
confusing his sense of reality.
Of the film's dark theme Renoir wrote: "The actions of all three principal characters were wholly without glamor; they occurred against empty backgrounds and in a perfectly abstract style. It was a story quite opposite to everything I had hitherto attempted. In all my previous films I had tried to
depict the bonds uniting the individual to his background. The older I grew, the more I had proclaimed the consoling truth that the world is one; and now [with THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH] I was embarked on a study of persons whose sole idea was to close the door on the absolutely concrete phenomenon
which we call life" (Renoir, My Life and My Films).
Originally to have been produced by Val Lewton, THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH was directed by Renoir at the request of Bennett, who wanted to work with the great French director. When Lewton became involved with other projects, Jack Gross, an RKO contract producer, took the film under his wing. Although
initially it was to have been a low-budget feature, THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH became a major production. When Gross died before the film's completion, Renoir took charge of the production, and though he was pleased with the results, others at RKO weren't. The film was also badly received by preview
audiences and, depressed at their reaction, Renoir was the first to advise that cuts and changes be made. Moreover, he requested that someone be assigned to help him with the rewrite. Again, as with the director's masterpiece, RULES OF THE GAME, Renoir found himself recutting the film on the basis
of audience response, failing to believe in the strength of his own vision. In retrospect he would note, "I'm afraid I was too far ahead of the public's mentality" (My Life and My Films). Like so many films by great directors, upon reevaluation THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH has proved to be a far better
film than originally perceived.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: The fifth and final American film for one of France's greatest directors, Jean Renoir, THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH is an accomplished piece of filmmaking that probes the relationship of three characters--their past, present, and future together. Although none o… (more)