Jean Cocteau adapted the fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont about a beast with magical qualities and the woman who falls in love with him.
The shrewish sisters Félicie (Mila Parély) and Adélaide (Nane Germon) complain about an arrow that their brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair) and his friend Avenant (Jean Marais) shot in their window. Félicie and Adélaide demand to be carried in chairs. The other sister Belle (Josette Day) has to work like a servant; but Avenant tells her she is the most beautiful, and he loves her. She resists him, and Ludovic hits Avenant. The usurer tells Ludovic he must pay his debt or his father's furniture will be taken. The father (Marcel André) owes money and goes into the forest. He enters a castle and sees candelabras pointing. No one answers, and he pours wine. He wakes, goes outside, and calls. He picks a rose for his daughter Belle. The Beast (Jean Marais) objects and says he or his daughter must die.
The father tells his story to his children and gives the rose to Belle. She says she will go, but Avenant objects and hits Félicie. Belle sneaks out and rides the horse to the forest. She enters the same castle. A door invites her into her room. A mirror talks to her and shows her father. Belle goes downstairs, sees the Beast, and faints. He carries her upstairs to a bed. Belle awakes, and the Beast says not to look at his eyes. He says she will see him at seven each morning. When she is at breakfast, he comes in and asks her not to be afraid. Every evening at seven he will ask her to marry him.
At night she sees his paws smoking. He asks the mirror where Belle is. He leaves pearls for her, and she tells him to go. She sees him drink from a stream. She talks with him and asks him to let her go. He says he will die if she does not return. Belle says that Avenant wants to marry her, and the Beast runs off. Belle says that the Beast is bloody and should get clean.
Ludovic owes money, and furniture is taken away. Belle asks to go home and swears to return in a week. The Beast gives Belle the key to his earthly wealth and a magic glove that takes her to her father. Belle tells him about the Beast and says he is good. The father tells his children that Belle cured him. The sisters plead with Belle to stay. Félicie gives the key to Ludovic. The Beast misses Belle. Ludovic and Avenant go on the horse. Félicie and Adélaide see their ugliness in the mirror. Belle sees herself and the Beast. Belle uses the magic glove but goes back for the key. Belle looks for the Beast and gives him the glove. The Beast is dying. Avenant is shot with an arrow and becomes the Beast, who becomes handsome like Avenant. He tells Belle that she will be a queen. In the final scene they embrace and ascend to heaven.
This allegory of romantic love delves into subconscious
fears about the animalistic aspects of sexuality but shows that
love and kindness can sublimate these into heavenly bliss.