Go ahead and say it…I’m no good!
The Woman on the Beach is among WB Archive’s latest releases – they were also kind enough to send a review copy for us to take a gander at.
The Woman on the Beach wasn’t a film I was not very familiar with. Being a smaller RKO production from 1947 and starring Joan Bennett and Robert Ryan the slipcase sounded very intriguing. Robert Ryan is close to marriage with the daughter of a local shipwright. He is also a lieutenant in the Coast Guard and is almost ready to be discharged. Previously, although it is never stated explicitly, he served on a ship which was ultimately torpedoed- the nightmares of which are still plaguing Ryan.
Today it would be called post-traumatic stress disorder. In WW1 it was shellshock but at the time of the picture this most likely would have been termed battle fatigue. Funny to see how we get more politically correct over time.
Ryan (playing Scott) takes daily horseback rides on the beach during which he passes a wrecked freighter, around which he sees (each day) a lady (Peggy – Joan Bennett) generally lounging about. After several days (or perhaps weeks) they finally talk and he learns that she is married to a blind artist (Charles Bickford as “Tod”).
Peggy and Scott hit it off and after Scott meets Tod, he (Scott) comes away with the idea that Tod may in fact be faking his blindness. Scott undertakes a few plots in an attempt to prove this and ultimately our little love triangle falls apart. I am leaving a lot of the details out, in case you’d like to watch this one. It isn’t bad. The plot on the surface is very interesting and Jean Renoir directs a very atmospheric little attempt at noir.
However, there are so many things in this picture which either simply don’t add up or are completely illogical. I have to presume this is the result of usual RKO tinkering and editing, but what could have been a truly fine picture comes off as a bit half finished.
For example, what exactly did Scott do in the war? Why does he think (or even care) that Tod may be faking his blindness? Why is Scott riding a horse? – and why would the Coast Guard have such an animal? This same Coast Guard station, which is obviously on the water, has no ships?
Why is Peggy loitering constantly in this abandoned wreck? And how is it possible that Tod still befriends Scott after not one, but two potential murder attempts? (Ok, that’s a spoiler.) And what in the world happens to these folks at the end of the film?
There is a tremendous potential here which just leaves the viewer confuddled and lost. The acting is superb – especially Bickford as the blind artist. Director Renoir has flashes of greatness and sets a good mood, but perhaps gets a bit too crazy with numerous zoom shots – although again their prevalence may be overstated by the editing which doubtless occurred after he finished up.
In spite of these flaws, the experience isn’t totally without a bit of panache. WB has released this in their latest round of Archive releases in a “remastered” edition. It still isn’t the greatest of prints but does show some improvement over a copy I do have. May not be a bad idea to take a look at this one, but the choppy feel does lessen the appeal somewhat.
Get it from the Warner Archives directly at The WB Shoppe.