WOMAN ON THE BEACH, THE
(director/writer: Jean Renoir; screenwriters: Frank Davis/J.R. Michael Hogan/from the novel None So Blind by Mitchell Wilson; cinematographers: Leo Tover/Harry J. Wild; editors: Lyle Boyer/Roland Gross; music: Hanns Eisler; cast: Joan Bennett (Peggy Butler), Robert Ryan (Lieutenant Scott Burnett), Charles Bickford (Tod Butler), Nan Leslie (Eve Geddes), Walter Sande (CPO Otto Wernecke), Irene Ryan (Mrs. Mary Wernecke); Runtime: 71; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Jack J. Gross/Will Price; RKO; 1947)
“One can only imagine how the pic would have looked without RKO interference.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Unsettling moody psychological melodrama based on the novel None So Blind by Mitchell Wilson. Director Jean Renoir (“The River”/”The Grand Illusion”/”The Rules of the Game”) is co-writer with Frank Davis and J.R. Michael Hogan in this flawed production, whereby RKO was not satisfied with Renoir’s storytelling ability and forced him to change a third of the film. The editing resulted in gaps in the story and some vacuous dialogue, but it still had Renoir’s edgy touches to keep me tuned into its intense emotional developments and I was also much impressed with the force of the pic and the great acting by the talented cast. One can only imagine how the pic would have looked without RKO interference, as the studio was miffed Renoir didn’t follow the usual mystery story outcomes. It resulted in the studio terminating the acclaimed French filmmaker’s contract and his return to France after his wartime exile in Hollywood, to never make another American film. I guess RKO showed him who was boss!
Coast Guard Lieutenant Scott Burnett (Robert Ryan), a ruggedly handsome mounted patrolman, is disturbed over a recurring nightmare of drowning and walks around the Coast Guard outpost as if shell-shocked. Scott confides to his friend and colleague, the family man CPO Otto Wernecke (Walter Sande), that his naval war experience of being a survivor in a torpedoed ship has left him with some lingering mental problems despite being treated for that problem by the military.
One day Scott meets the attractive Peggy Butler (Joan Bennett) on the beach collecting firewood from a ship wreck and becomes so attracted to the sexy married woman, that he changes his mind about marrying his sweet local fianceeEve Geddes (Nan Leslie). Peggy’s husband is the famous painter Tod Butler (Charles Bickford), who in a recent accident has become blind and retired as a painter. Soon a love triangle develops. Scott is obsessed with winning over Peggy. Tod is obsessed with holding onto his valuable paintings and his trophy wife, whom he treats brutally. While Peggy is the hot-blooded femme fatale, who plays the men against each other to satisfy her whims. The men fight to possess the femme fatale, as all three are tormented by their passions and loneliness and by the isolated grey beach surroundings. Though Peggy no longer loves hubby, she is guilt-ridden that she accidentally caused his blindness and therefore can’t leave him without him giving her permission.
In the end, Tod cleanses his tormented soul by freeing himself from his past by burning his paintings (thereby leaving him penniless and with no possessions) and giving his long-suffering wife the option to be with her lover Scott, if she so chooses. The overwrought melodramatics probably doesn’t make too much sense, but it has an absorbing way of drawing one into the dark sides of love.
REVIEWED ON 2/10/2011 GRADE: B