The Woman on the Beach
|The Woman on the Beach|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jean Renoir|
|Produced by||Jack J. Gross
|Screenplay by||Frank Davis
|Based on||None So Blind
by Mitchell Wilson
|Music by||Hanns Eisler|
Harry J. Wild
|Edited by||Lyle Boyer
|Distributed by||RKO Pictures|
The movie is a love triangle drama about Scott, a conflicted U.S. Coast Guard officer (Ryan), and his pursuit of Peggy, a married woman (Bennett). Peggy is married to Tod, a blind artist (Bickford).
Scott (Robert Ryan), a mounted Coast Guard officer, suffers from recurring nightmares involving a maritime tragedy. He sees himself immersed in an eerie landscape surrounded by a shipwreck and walking over skeletons at the bottom of the sea while a ghostly blond woman beckons him from afar. He thinks he is going mad. But at the same time, he decides to propose to Eve (Nan Leslie), a young woman working at Geddes, a local shipyard catering to the Coast Guard. She accepts. Eve has a strong resemblance to the ghostly blond of his nightmares.
While riding by the seaside on his horse, Scott meets Peggy (Joan Bennett), a brunette, the mysterious wife of Tod (Charles Bickford), a blind painter. At first, though, he rides by her as she stands near a shipwreck protruding from the sand; she seems like an eerie echo from his nightmares. After a conversation, they discover that they share similar metaphysical anxieties. A bond develops between the two but the situation gets more tangled when Tod tries to befriend Scott. Tod's attitude toward Scott, apart from his friendship, is also ambivalent. The retired painter tries to test Peggy and Scott to gauge how far they could go in their relationship. Outwardly Tod seems confident; he even tells Peggy that he knows she could never leave him and that he finds Scott, a much younger man, virile but banal.
However behind this facade lies a deeply wounded man who cannot come to terms with the fact that because of his blindness, he cannot paint any longer. In one exchange with Scott he tells him that dead painters' works always appreciate in value. Indeed, he expects the value of his paintings to increase, considering he is now 'dead' as a painter.
Initially Scott is suspicious of Tod's motives; he also suspects that Tod is not blind. Scott is also increasingly interested in Peggy, who returns his attentions. During an outing that Scott sets up to test the painter, he moves Tod near the edge of a cliff, but then inadvertently lets him fall, thinking that he will be forced to see and therefore avoid the fall at the last minute. After this mishap, Tod eventually recovers. He at first thinks that Scott would now become his friend since the fall would remove any doubts about his true blindness. But soon after Tod exhibits abusive behavior toward Peggy when he realizes that she has hidden his masterpiece, his portrait of her. Seeing this, Scott tries to protect her.
As Scott grows more attracted to Peggy, he becomes ambivalent toward his earlier relationship with Eve Geddes. Eve in turn, sensing Scott's infatuation with Peggy, becomes distant and asks Scott to delay their marriage plans. The narrative reaches one climax when Scott attempts to drown both Tod and himself during a boat outing with him that started as a fishing trip. By trying to pierce the bottom of the boat, it's apparent that Scott has put himself in danger as well, since he would be swimming helpless in the stormy seas had he been successful at this attempt. This scene illustrates the degree of his desperation, if not madness.
This attempt by Scott to drown Tod reveals the depth of his emotional attachment to Peggy. Scott's plan fails, however, because Peggy, who seemingly went along with his plan, has a change of heart and alerts the authorities. Both Tod and Scott are eventually rescued by the Coast Guard. Eve, part of the rescue team, echoes the metaphysical connection to the blonde of his undersea nightmare who beckoned Scott in his dreams.
In the film's finale, Tod burns all his paintings along with the house he and Peggy lived in. Peggy frantically tries to stop Tod and save the paintings: they are worth a fortune. She fails, as Scott forces her out of the collapsing house. After they have moved safely away, Scott asks Tod why he did it. Tod says the paintings were a symbol of the obsession he had with his previous, sighted life. Now that Tod's obsession with his past has been purged, he is free to go on with his life. He asks Peggy to take him to New York, where they have happy memories of their earlier life together. Afterwards she may "do as she pleases". Peggy embraces Tod. Observing this, Scott leaves them.
- Joan Bennett as Peggy Butler
- Robert Ryan as Scott Burnett
- Charles Bickford as Tod Butler
- Nan Leslie as Eve Geddes
- Walter Sande as Otto Wernecke
- Irene Ryan as Mrs. Wernecke
- Glen Vernon as Kirk
- Frank Darien as Lars
- Jay Norris as Jimmy
The film recorded a loss of $610,000.
The staff at Variety magazine liked the film and wrote, "Thesping is uniformly excellent with the cast from top to bottom responding to Renoir's controlling need for a surcharged atmosphere. In subtle counterpoint to the film's surface vagueness, the settings are notably realistic in their size and quality. Choice camerawork sustains the film's overall impact while sweeping through the entire production is a magnificent score by Hanns Eisler which heightens all of the film's pictorial values."
Film critic Dennis Schwartz discussed the problems the director of the film had with the studio in his review, writing, "Unsettling moody psychological melodrama ... 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!"
- "The Woman on the Beach: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 30, 2014.
- Selby, Spencer. Dark City: The Film Noir, film listed as film noir #485 on page 196, 1984. Jefferson, N.C. & London: McFarland Publishing. ISBN 0-89950-103-6.
- The Woman on the Beach at the Internet Movie Database
- Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
- Variety. Film review, June 2, 1947.
- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, February 10, 2011.
- The Woman on the Beach at the Internet Movie Database
- The Woman on the Beach at AllMovie
- The Woman on the Beach at the TCM Movie Database
- The Woman on the Beach at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Woman on the Beach informational site and DVD review at DVD Beaver (includes images)
- The Woman on the Beach at Film Noir of the Week by Wheeler Winston Dixon
- on YouTube from Warner Bros. Archive