The Woman on the Beach (1947)

(Image: Noir of the Week)
(Image: Noir of the Week)

Scott (Robert Ryan) has been having frequent nightmares, and he’s sure that these nightmares mean one thing: he’s losing his mind.

In order to maintain some sense of normalcy in his waking hours, Scott proposes to Eve (Nan Leslie), a nice young woman who works at the local shipyard. Eve readily accepts his proposal and is completely in love with him.

One day, while visiting the beach, Scott meets a pretty brunette named Peggy (Joan Bennett) who is married to a blind painter named Tod (Charles Bickford). Scott comes to believe that Peggy, having experienced struggles of her own in the past, is the only person who truly understands him.

Scott and Peggy develop a strange bond that soon becomes romantic, but their situation is complicated when Peggy’s husband Tod decides to become friends with Scott.

Jean Renoir directs 1947’s The Woman on the Beach. This RKO release is not your average “love triangle” film. In addition to the romantic drama of the plot, the film is also a psychological drama with noir elements. The screenplay was written by Renoir, Frank Davis and Michael Hogan from the novel “None So Blind” by Mitchell Wilson.

A captivating opening montage kicks off the film, giving the viewer a first-person look into Scott’s nightmare and giving us a great insight into his mindset. Hallucinatory montages pop up a couple more times throughout the film.

From that first montage through the final frame, The Woman on the Beach is an incredibly engrossing film. It edges on melodrama at times, but that isn’t a bad thing in my book.

The screenplay is somewhat weaker than it should be given the great potential of the premise, but the talents of both cast and director elevate the material. Bennett, Bickford and Ryan create interesting and very often tense dynamics between their characters.

Not once do the script’s weaker points (which usually make themselves known through contrived dialogue), become distracting because the mood of the film is built so well through direction, cinematography and performance. The photography is particularly beautiful in scenes that include all three participants of the love triangle. One scene stands out, in which Scott and Peggy are hiding inside of a grounded ship while Tod lurks around outside.

(Image: Doctor Macro)
(Image: Doctor Macro)

For all of the screenplay’s weak dialogue, the story takes a few interesting and unexpected turns, too, which I won’t spoil.

The intrigue of Scott’s past in combination with the relationship dynamics is generally a good mix. The focus isn’t too much on either the story’s mystery aspect or on the romance, instead electing to explore the characters and how their misfortunes have affected them. The film’s largest takeaway for the viewer aims to be these evaluations of the characters, with every single decision they make being affected by their pasts and psychological mind-frames.

The Woman on the Beach is surprisingly gripping little film. Though it is a flawed film, it offers up interesting characters/character relationships and whole lot of beautiful photography. The score: 3.8/5

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One thought on “The Woman on the Beach (1947)

  1. I recorded this and another Renoir film off TCM years ago for my sister, but never watched it before I gave the tape to her. So, since I know nothing about the film that I can discuss with you, all I can say is: can someone please, once and for all, tell these filmmakers that ‘Todd’ is spelled with two d’s, and not one! Or at least tell them that the COOL way to spell it is with two d’s!

    And I must say, I like the novel’s title better than the one they went with.

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