The Private Affairs of Bel Ami Blu-ray Review

A callous cad ruthlessly climbs the ladder of Parisian society by exploiting a string of high society women. The Private Affairs of Bel Ami is based on the novel Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant and directed by Albert Lewin (The Picture of Dorian Gray). The stately 1946 drama stars George Sanders (All About Eve), Ann Dvorak and a young, fresh-faced Angela Lansbury. This is a revealing character portrait of a scoundrel that remains as devastating today as it was back in the 1940s. It’s a harsh look at love from a much different perspective than normal.

It’s 1880 in the heart of Paris society. Lead actor George Sanders ably plays George Duroy, a womanizing journalist that quickly discards his relationships when they stop offering him benefits. He’s a cynical scoundrel in affairs of the heart, cleverly seducing women and then abandoning them at his convenience. It is all for a quick rise up society’s ladder of wealth and stature. George owes nothing to anyone but himself in his heartless approach to life.

There are so many wonderful, little exchanges in the script…

Among the women that fall for George’s charms is a young widow played by ingénue Angela Lansbury. Most people alive today associate Lansbury with her time on Murder, She Wrote as the elderly Jessica Fletcher, but she was once a ravishing screen siren in Hollywood. She shines in this early movie role. Her Clotilde falls hopelessly in love with George, hoping against hope she can melt his cold heart. George tells her there is a difference between marriage and love when pushed on the matter. He views matrimony as a financial arrangement.

As for George, his ambitions soon move on to other women, including the wife of his dying friend. He envisions an important career advancement if he can snag a working partnership with Madeleine (Ann Dvorak), despite her marriage to George’s only real friend. His lack of remorse gives him a great advantage in using women and callously leaving them, allowing him to swiftly move up in prestige and wealth. There are so many wonderful, little exchanges in the script between George and the women he pursues. Its sparkling dialogue is the polished stuff of classic Hollywood.

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami is such a harsh movie that it feels like a modernist take on love. As George toys with the women that fall in love with him for purely selfish reasons, his cruelty is breathtaking for 1946. He’s a heartless bastard as his personal machinations always seem to turn out well, despite leaving a wake of crushed women in his wake. George is such a memorable villain in that regard. That might explain why the narrative still resonates today when other similar films from the era have been forgotten.

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami Blu-ray screen shot 11

Video

Academy Award winner Russell Metty (Spartacus) films The Private Affairs of Bel Ami in crisp black-and-white cinematography. The 1946 drama has been licensed from Paramount by Olive Films featuring a restoration done by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. This is a nice, properly-done presentation of classic older film, one that respects the original elements. Aside from some softness and poorer contrast in the final two reels, the video has better definition and clarity than average for this vintage. It is shown in its native 1.33 aspect ratio.

The main feature runs 112 minutes on a BD-25. Encoded in AVC, the serviceable film elements are cleanly reproduced without artifacts. The unfiltered film transfer preserves the fine grain structure in detail. There are minor print anomalies as a result of wear but this is largely the entire movie in very presentable condition. This is consistent picture quality with appreciable film texture and detail. As was common in the 1940s, leading ladies are often shot with a softer, more romantic light that reduces definition.

The restoration utilizes fairly clean elements with a strong contrast and solid black levels, which is a must in older black-and-white film stock. All things considered, this is a major film success. The one burst of color in the entire film is a shot of Max Ernst’s painting The Temptation of St. Anthony in splendid detail. Color was so expensive at the time that filmmakers would often throw in a moment of color to wow audiences.

Audio

The monaural audio comes in a 2.0 DTS-HD MA flavor. The sound is thin. Don’t expect much in the upper or lower frequencies. Dialogue reproduction doesn’t ring with the crystal-clarity of better recordings, occasionally leading to mumbled lines.

The dialogue-driven drama features a soft score with the occasional musical piece to liven things up. This is serviceable but ordinary sound quality, even by the standards of a 1946 recording heard in 2016. A minor synching issue in the last reel isn’t all that noticeable.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a yellow font.

Extras

No special features are included.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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