Film is more mood than meaning. On the surface, it is a confusion of logic, a narrative drawn with invisible lines around characters without motivation in a plot only shadowily defined. But beneath, the cinematic elements are brilliantly fused by Jean Renoir into an intense and compelling emotional experience.
Thesping is uniformly excellent with the cast from top to bottom responding to Renoir’s controlling need for a surcharged atmosphere. In subtle counterpoint to the film’s surface vagueness, the settings are notably realistic in their size and quality. Choice camerawork sustains the film’s overall impact while sweeping through the entire production is a magnificent score b Hanns Eisler which heightens all of the film’s pictorial values.
Basically, the yarn [based on the novels, None So Blind by Mitchell Wilson] is a variation of the eternal triangle theme but it unfolds elusively through implication and suggestion, only occasionally emerging to the level of full clarity. In the film’s center, Charles Bickford plays the role of a blind artist, brutally strong and madly jealous of his wife. As the latter, Joan Bennett is a callous tart tied to her husband only through an obsession of guilt arising from her accidental blinding of Bickford early in their marriage.
Third part is played by Robert Ryan, a coast guard officer stationed near the blind man’s home in a desolate spot on the ocean front. He is recovering from a mental shock obtained in naval combat during the war.