In the two years since the waras in the ten before itFrance has been producing some fine films. Last week two new ones were showing in the U.S.
Volpone (Siritzky International), rare Ben Jonson's rarest spectacle, has been somewhat simplified for the screen by Adapters Stefan Zweig and Jules Romains. In reviving Jonson in any form they have had to combat what T. S. Eliot calls a "most perfect conspiracy of approval." In the general willingness to grant Jonson all manner of dull virtues, it has been generally overlooked that (in Volpone especially) he abounds in the lively vice of showmanship. This film exaggerates that vice. The result is magnificent mummery, set and played with tremendous style.
The late Harry Baur's performance as Volponeat once lovable and evil, silly and profoundis a vaudeville masterpiece.
Beauty & the Beast (Paulvé; Lopert), the innocent old fairy tale written in 1757 by Madame Le Prince de Beaumont, seems to many surrealists to state the problem of good & evil in its "real" terms, i.e., as a sexual, male-female equation, with symbols of profane and sacred love. Poet-Playwright-Producer Jean Cocteau, a part-time surrealist, has now transformed the tale into a film that is a wondrous spectacle for children of any language, and quite a treat for their parents, too.
Clever, opium-puffing Producer Cocteau (his fans call him "the cleverest man alive") has allowed his pipe dreams only a soupcon of surrealist-Freudian flavor. The surreal touch is applied to several scenes with absolute poetic Tightness: by retarding to slow motion Beauty's terror-struck sprint through the Beast's castle, Cocteau conveys every decibel of the shriek she cannot release. There is also plenty of surreal wit: the Beast's eyes, ears, nose and fingernails fume when the fires of lust blaze up in him; and Beauty's tears turn to diamonds on her cheeks.
Unfortunately, Cocteau makes about a half-hour too much of a good thingand few things pall like a dream that cannot be shaken off. Cocteau's moody retort to this criticism is that there's just no dream to shake off: "It's a realistic film in an unreal world."