The Woman on the Beach is a film noir from 1947 directed by Jean Renoir. We have Joan Bennett as our femme fatale and Robert Ryan as our duped hero. Charles Bickford plays our disgruntled blind husband of Bennett. This is a short film of only 71 minutes long and a fairly simple plot with out much wow factor.
This film starts out very strong with Ryan having a nightmare. The nightmare is strange and wonderful, with some cool camera effects. Ryan plays a Navy man who has seen some bad things. Today we would say he has Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He wakes from his nightmare as his bed’s head frame and shadows on the wall show he really is in a prison of his own mind.
He travels along the beach where Bennett catches his eye, though he doesn’t stop or acknowledge her, we see there is some electricity there. He continues on his intended path to talk to his girlfriend, played by Nan Leslie, to see if she will marry him. Is this a last-ditch effort to save himself from going mad?
Even though Ryan has just become engaged, he still finds an attraction to Bennett who he learns is married. Ryan soon meets the husband who is a famous artist, except he has recently gone blind. Bickford plays the blind artist who is a very interesting character. He is abusive to his wife, maybe taking out his frustrations on her? As the movie goes along we find the couple to be in a co-dependent relationship. Bickford takes a liking to Ryan, or does he just want his enemy close?
Ryan believes Bickford really isn’t blind but is pretending, to keep Bennett close to him. This all sounds great, but it seems to trail off from here with out to much of a plot. I think this film would have been much better with a little more plot towards the end and a slightly longer run time. Ryan is great as usual, playing an average man back from the war. Bennett is good as our complex femme fatale, using men to get what she wants, but does she really know what she wants? Bickford is also very good as the bitter husband that has lost everything important to him, but is trying to adapt.
This is a decent film worth watching. It has three great characters and starts out with a strong study of those characters. This first half hour is very intense and you feel like you are on your way to watching a hidden gem, but the second half fell a little flat to me. Still worth watching for film noir buffs and fans of the three leads.