Starring: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély
Written By: Jean Cocteau (dialogue), Jean Cocteau (screenplay)
Directed By: Jean Cocteau, René Clément (uncredited)
Original Year of Release: 1946
Run Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Beauty and the Beast (1946) or better known as La belle et la bête is the film adaptation of Leprince de Beaumont’s fairy-tale masterpiece that has been told over and over again for years. It is the story of a man transformed into a beast that must find true love to break his curse. Many of us know of the 1991 Disney animated musical. This version of the tale has similarities to that but it is far from the halls of singing candlesticks and teapots.
Belle (Josette Day) lives with her two spoiled sisters and father at the outset of destitution. Her father (Marcel André) has made some poor business decisions and decides on a final gamble that will save his family. His journey brings him to a strange castle and after a night of witnessing the impossible, he takes a single rose from the garden as a present for Belle. The master of the castle appears in a freighting form as both a man and a beast. He is a prince (Jean Marais) cursed into this hideous form and after years of seclusion longs for companionship. Belle’s father cuts a deal with the prince that he will return in three days after saying goodbye to his family. The prince then tells him that if one of his daughters will come in his place that he will be free. Upon returning home, via a magical horse, Belle trades places with her father despite her father’s objections. Belle is then thrust into this magical world and must live with this beast of a prince who wants nothing but for her to love him.
Each and every day the prince appears to Belle and asks her to marry him. It should go without saying that the prince gets right to the point in trying to break his curse. Their love story comes from Belle trying to find what is left of the prince’s humanity. More often than not the prince is more an animal than a man. Belle uses the prince’s magic mirror to learn of her father’s ill health. It is this moment that the tide turns and the prince rediscovers his humanity. Belle is allowed to return and she promises to do so. It is the greed of others that turns this story away from the Disney version we have all come to know.
A comparison’s to both the Disney animated musical and Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre version pops up more than once as you watch this classic. Some of Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera (2004) is in here as well. Regardless of the comparison this version was first and is an earmark for both film and fairy tales. More often than not films of this nature can be too whimsical and their characters seem to flutter between the scenes. Jean Cocteau’s presents a strong female character with very real problems and sets her against a fantastic dilemma. The prince is wrong in what he does yet Belle has the power to set everything right if she can indeed save the man deep down inside. The biggest problem is the transformation of the beast like prince into the man he once was. Belle has a suitor that she cares little for, Avenant. He is crass and greedy and is played by the same actor as the prince, Jean Marais. It becomes difficult to disassociate one character for the other. As the audience, we too wish to see the person under all that ugliness and hope that Belle can reveal his humanity. When he looks like the villain at the end it comes off with little satisfaction. No fairy tale is perfect or without risk but this one leaves you wanting just a tad more.