Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
This film lands somewhere just on the other side of what could have been an interesting one-set play, but requires film as the medium to tell the story Jean Renoir had in mind, and we'd lose some key scenes and beautiful visuals.
Muller's intro and outro on Noir City are more than what most of the hosts on TCM provide - there's lots of contextualizing, from historical notes to researched portions that shed light on aspects of the film you might not have picked up on as a modern viewer or not knowing what was happening with the creators of the film either professionally or personally. And the outros usually leave you with something similar, but best saved for after you've already seen the movie. And this movie had plenty of curious stuff surrounding it, not the least of which was that I never knew famed French director Jean Renoir (Rules of the Game) was the son of the famed painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Fleeing the Germans, Renoir came to the states and made the least memorable films of his career. There's a long and painful story behind the making and release of The Woman on the Beach (1947), but the end result was a deeply shortened final film following reshoots and months and months in the edit room.
I don't actually doubt that the film counts as noir, but it's a noir living inside a melodrama. The stakes are almost entirely personal, and no crimes, exactly fit into the picture.
Coast Guardsman "Scott" (played by Robert Ryan) is recovering from a ship going down under him and suffering from what we'd now call PTSD. He's found a nice girl (Nan Leslie) in the coastal town where he's recuperating, and would marry her, but they have a schedule they're sticking to. He keeps seeing a woman on the beach (natch) collecting firewood and hanging around, and eventually finds she (Joan Bennett) is married to a well known painter who has gone blind (Charles Bickford). The robust and younger figure Scott (Ryan) cuts is appealing, and Peggy and Scott feel a mutual attraction. The artist, Tod, is no charmer but Peggy doesn't feel she can leave him as she's responsible for him losing his eyesight. Apparently they used to have bursts of boozing and passion, both angry and sexual (and at the same time, I'd gather).
Scott doesn't believe Tod is blind and believes he has to rescue Peggy (Bennett), becoming an obsession - but it becomes clear that Scott isn't the first gentleman Peggy has lured in.
The movie begins with some fascinating and oddball visuals of Ryan drowning, super imposed underwater in a series of effects shots - visual representations of his PTSD-fueled dreams. But the cinematography captures the world of the film as a desolate beachfront, sand and scrub against weather, water and sun. And plenty of "shot on location" footage brings the movie to life - including a scene in which Scott tests whether Tod is actually blind, clearing the question for both audience and himself.
The movie isn't color by numbers, and doesn't resolve its conflicts in ways that I realize maybe I'd come to expect from the movies appearing on Noir Alley, but it does have tight ending that I still didn't really see coming til it occurred.
|Robert Ryan and Joan Bennett (and some beach)|
Brief at 75 minutes, it's worth a spin. Joan Bennett is pretty great (they suggest she's aging in the film, but looks younger than her mid-30's, so.... good genes, there, Joan), as is all the cast. Maybe the weirdest to see in the film is a pre-Beverly Hillbillies Irene Ryan, playing a colorful but not over-the-top local woman and friend to Ryan's fiancee.
According to Muller, the movie was far longer in its original cut and tested badly - which would be obvious, this isn't a movie for teens and kids and the usual folks who show up for "movie" because it's free. Although made inside the studio system, The Woman on the Beach reads more like an arthouse film, and it's kind of amazing it hasn't been remade in the years since in exactly that context. The sort of confused love triangles are more reminiscent of The Piano than anything I can readily think of - especially those 90's and 00's potboilers about infidelity.