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Michel Simon and Gérard Philipe star in this imaginative retelling of the Faust legend. Approaching the end of his life, a prominent professor of alchemy (Simon) makes a bargain with the Devil (Philipe) that will gain him youth, fame and riches in exchange for his soul. Master filmmaker René Clair creates an allegorical fantasy that is at times both whimsical and tragicomic. Bonus Features:2010 Documentary Featurette, Original French Trailer, Theatrical Re-release Trailer.
There are just some topics that have been dramatized with such frequency, I beg never to see another interpretation. For example, I could live out my remaining years content not to see another spin on "A Christmas Carol" which has been done hundreds of times in TV and film. Although nothing could be as omnipresent as the Dickens' classic, the tale of Faust can't be too far behind. Making the ultimate "deal with the devil," the Faustian legend dates back to the late 1500's and has been the basis for innumerable artistic works. But when the 1950 René Clair film "The Beauty of the Devil" surfaced on the DVD/Blu-ray market, I simply had to check it out. If anyone could put a fresh twist on a classic tale, it was Clair. And indeed, this adaptation is loaded with whimsy and lightheartedness even as it explores the darkness of a man's soul. Most of the tale's traditional elements are present, but here we're treated to a spectacularly ironic ending that might have you wondering who the true victim of the story is!
We meet an elder Faust (Michel Simon) as an academician in his waning years. An alchemist who has yet to achieve his career ambition, he is seduced by Mephistopheles to reclaim his youth and live a different sort of life. But the young Faust (Gérard Philipe) is a shrewd negotiator and thinks he can outwit the Devil's agent. Most of "The Beauty of the Devil" plays out as a battle of wills as Mephistopheles tries to seal the deal (he has taken over Faust's elderly identity) by alternately fulfilling his young charge's wishes and threatening to take them away. It's a frothy sport as the two actors (and characters) play off one another, and their comic rivalry also starts to show them as friends of a sort.Read more ›
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This is the first of three masterpieces - and perhaps the greatest of them - in which Rene Clair found a new style. (The successors were LES BELLES DE NUIT and LES GRANDES MANOEUVRES.) Penelope Houston compared them to the eighteenth-century French conte philosophique. (Why are there no italics available on this site?) Clair should, indeed, have filmed CANDIDE (and Gerald Philipe would have been perfect casting). Alas, after MANOEUVRES Clair reverted to his 1930s style, with PORTE DES LILAS, and very tired it looked. (It was my personal misfortune that I had bought Gaumont's edition of LA BEAUTE DU DIABLE, and struggled with the French subtitles for French sourds et malendendants, before I learned of the almost simultaneous appearance of the Cohen edition.) In spite of what I have said about a new style, Clair's best Hollywood film, I MARRIED A WITCH (newly restored by Criterion) is similar to BEAUTE in its characterisation of the Devil's representative. The warlock father in WITCH, and Mephistopheles in BEAUTE, display a comparable glee in their mischief. (The special meaning of 'la beaute du diable' - the transitory bloom of a young girl not otherwise beautiful - does not seem to have anything to do with the film.) Restore BELLES DE NUIT, please, somebody. (There is a good dvd of GRANDES MANOEUVRES, a film whose use of colour is in the Jean Renoir - or Vincente Minnelli - class.) Some later news: there is a blu-ray of LES BELLES DE NUIT, available from French Amazon. It does not say that it is restored but it seems likely. Unfortunately, there are French subtitles only. Also unfortunately, it would not play on my player. I told French Amazon, who sent another which wouldn't play either. Gaumont, who issued it, have ignored my request for an explanation. There the matter rests.
I first saw this movie (a retelling of the Faust story) around 1950, when I was a teenager, and it became my favorite movie. I saw it at least three times. I found it exceptionally funny. In recent years I tried to see it again, but found no version with subtitles, so when this version appeared I immediately rented and watched it. Frankly, I was disappointed! I really couldn't see what I had found so funny all those years ago! Still, it is nice movie that reflects the era when it was made. .
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