The Beauty of the Devil Blu-ray Review
A fire burns, spitting its flames and smoke high above—but it doesn’t stem from where you might expect. It comes from the laboratory of Henri Faust, a professor of alchemy who will soon have a run-in with a certain individual known to reside in such an atmosphere.
Faust (Michel Simon, Jean Renoir’s BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING) has spent his entire life devoted to his work and is now set to retire. He is praised by his colleagues, who can only wish they too will last 50 years in their profession. After a brief meeting in honor of his achievements, Faust exits the building and is chased by whispers. One goes, “You’re wasting the last hours of your life…” Another, “I could show you everything…”
He knows where those words come from. And soon the source reveals himself as Mephistopheles (also Simon). Mephistopheles, on behalf of the Devil, makes the case that Faust has wasted his life, and the professor can’t help but agree. After a tease of unlimited knowledge and fame, Faust is transformed into an incredibly handsome young man (Gérard Philipe, who played the title role in 1952’s FANFAN LA TULIPE) who is more lively and go-getting than Faust has been in decades.
THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL (LA BEAUTE DU DIABLE in its original language) is, of course, based on the legend of Faust, which was most famously adapted for cinema by F.W. Murnau in 1926. The director here is René Clair (whose films include 1930’s SOUS LES TOITS DE PARIS, 1931’s LE MILLION and the wonderful 1942 fantasy I MARRIED A WITCH), whose approach to the German legend is far from that of Murnau’s.
THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL is often very playful and comes with a number of clever turns and dips that will keep viewers on their toes. At times, it may be a tad overwhelming keeping up with who is adopting whose body or who is in what state, but Clair always makes the payoff worthwhile. At times, the viewer may try to play a sort of guessing game regarding the identities, or even end up believing that Mephistopheles has taken the form of, say, one of the female dancers or even a dog. It seems highly unlikely merely reading this review or any literary take of Faust, but quite possible the further into the film you get.
Other notable aspects of the film include the wonderful sets by Léon Barsacq (who served as art director on Marcel Carné’s CHILDREN OF PARADISE and would later score an Oscar nod for his work on the WWII epic THE LONGEST DAY) and stellar performances by Simon and Philipe, who play their multiple parts with such charisma and spirit.
Not long after THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL was released (and was named by the National Board of Review as one of the Top Foreign Films of the year), the critics of the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinéma began to turn on Clair. But despite claims (by those such as François Truffaut) that Clair was past his prime, THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL remains perhaps the finest work of the second half of the director’s career.
THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This is a very good high-definition transfer considering THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL is more than 60 years old. While there are a few instances of minor damage, the overall quality is quite impressive, with excellent contrast and fine details for the duration.
Audio: French 2.0 LPMC. Subtitles in English. The audio transfer doesn’t offer a whole lot of dimension, but the dialogue and score are clear throughout.
Through the Looking Glass with René Clair: Master of the Fantastic (49:58): Directed by Pierre-Henri Gibert, this 2010 documentary focuses on the life and career of Clair, with specific emphasis on THE BEAUTY OF THE DEVIL.
Original French Trailer
2013 Theatrical Re-release Trailer