Orpheus (1950)

orpheus poster 1950 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great and interesting visuals

Feels like the themes of the story could be tightened and expanded

Movie Info

Movie Name: Orpheus

Studio:  Andre Paulve Film

Genre(s): Drama/Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s):  March 1, 1950 (Cannes)/September 29, 1950 (France)/November 29, 1950 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

orpheus death jean marais maria casares

Death’s got the hots for Orpheus

Famed poet Orpheus (Jean Marais) becomes the target of Death (María Casares) who has fallen in love with him.  Death makes her connection to Orpheus through her taking of a young poet named Cégeste (Édouard Dermit) and Orpheus becomes obsessed in the process.  Orpheus’s wife Eurydice (Marie Déa) finds her husband distant, but Death’s assistant Heurtebise (François Périer) finds himself enamored with her.  When Death decides to take Eurydice, rules are broken and the barrier between life and death is blurred.

Written and directed by Jean Cocteau, Orpheus (Orphée) is a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus.  The film is considered part of Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy which included The Blood of a Poet (1932) and Testament of Orpheus (1960).  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #68).

I like Greek mythology and love how it is timeless.  The ideas and concepts of the stories can be traced to modern tales, and Orpheus is just another take on this idea.  Overall, I found the movie enjoyable though I do feel it could have been even better.

orpheus heurtebise underworld francois perier jean marais

Hey….seriously…just hold up

The story changes up aspects of the Orpheus tale in general for the storytelling.  The introduction of the love of Death and Heurtebise kind of flips the story onto them.  Heurtebise loses Eurydice and Death loses Orpheus to immortalize him…Orpheus isn’t particularly likable and in the original tale he was the suffering one.  He mourned his wife and then lost her again but not out frustration.  I thought the movie gets a bit sitcom-y when it gets into the “I can’t look at her” part.

The cast is good but the story doesn’t help them.  I feel María Casares is pretty compelling as Death and the most interesting of the characters.  François Périer should have been a more interesting since he is just a servant who is experiencing love, but I still find his character a bit flat.  Both Jean Marais and Marie Déa aren’t very interesting as they are written in the tale and I didn’t particularly care what happened to either of them.

orpheus death eurydice marie dea maria casares

Well…if I get fired as Death, I have a future as a comic book villain

The best part of Orpheus is the interesting visuals.  The movie (obviously) is all practical effects and the most technical things they get into are rear-projection style imagery in some scenes.  There are really interesting reverse photography imagery (which thematically plays with the time aspect of the story and the idea of going back), and many of the mirror scenes are done very creatively.  Movies like Citizen Kane really pushed the edge of visuals and movies like Orpheus seemed to follow that up.

Orpheus is definitely worth seeing and my criticisms are kind of minor.  While I do feel that pose some problems, I don’t feel that they ruin the film by any means.  It just feels like it could be more defined and in that tightening, it could have been not just a good film but a great film.  I will always enjoy Greek themed stories and movies, so Orpheus wins in that account…but definitely check it out for the visuals and consider the filming options at the time.

Related Links:

The Blood of a Poet (1932)

Testament of Orpheus (1960)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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