Review: Beauty and the Beast (1946) Blu-ray

Beauty and the Beast Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Jean Cocteau | CAST: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair
7/19/11 | PRICE: Blu-ray $39.99
commentaries, featurettes, interviews, vintage materials
NR | 93 min. | Foreign language fantasy | 1.33:1 fullscreen | monaural | French with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Filled with dreamy settings, images and, of course, characters, Jean Cocteau’s (Orpheus) 1946 adaptation of  Mme. Leprince de Beaumon famed fable Beauty and the Beast is a feast for the senses and — dare I say it? — the soul. Cocteau crafts a sublimely powerful movie of love and longing, where the story and its fantastical elements are perfectly matched (and frequently enhanced!) by the formidable artistic, poetic and stylistic talents that the filmmaker brings to the project.

Beauty and the Beast movie scene

Jean Marais (l.) and Josette Day are Avenant and Belle in Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast.

Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition of Beauty marks the label’s third digital release of the title, and Cocteau’s film has never looked or sounded better. The details of the movie’s carefully crafted production design are as rich as I’ve ever seen.

The grand mansion, the candelabras, the statues and sculpted busts, the jewels adorning Jean Marais’s ever-expressive Beast, they all look simply gorgeous without being too crisp or overly delineated.

And the blacks are deep and black. Sometimes, a film’s grain enhances what’s on the screen, and that’s the case with this nearly-70-year-old piece, a dream movie if ever there was one. The film’s grain can be seen on the screen in all its not-at-all-obtrusive glory, and that’s the way it should be. Who wants to see crystal-clear fog floating across an enchanted garden anyway?

As for the audio, Georges Auric’s score sounds grand in its uncompressed mono delivery, though it’s the newer orchestral score by Philip Glass that truly shines in a sweeping 5.1 DTS-HD presentation. In the case of both tracks, the dialog rarely gets covered by the mix.

The supplemental trove is nearly identical to that found on the Criterion DVD version from 2003. Of exceptional note are the two intelligent commentary tracks by film scholar Arthur Knight and writer Sir Christopher Frayling, a 1995 cast/crew reunion documentary and a brief interview with cinematographer Henri Alekan.

There’s also a new essay by literary critic Geoffrey O’Brien, wherein he describes the film as “perhaps the most self-effacing of Cocteau’s works,” as all of the “artist’s talents are placed at the services of an old folkloric tale.” That’s absolutely correct —and everything old is new again.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.