The effect of the candles lighting themselves as the merchant passes them was achieved by blowing them out and then running the film in reverse as he walked backward past them. The entire sequence was done in one long take and reversed - a quick glimpse of the fireplace shows the flames appearing to move downward.
The look and decor of the film was influenced by the work of nineteenth-century artist and engraver Gustave Doré, most famous for illustrating a famous nineteenth century French edition of "Don Quixote". Doré's illustrations for that novel are so famous that they continue to be reprinted even today.
Jean Cocteau used several different kinds of film stock because of the difficulty of getting stock immediately after the war. He claimed that the different visual textures added to the poetic effect of the film.
Philip Glass composed an opera perfectly synchronized to the film. The original soundtrack was eliminated, and he composed the opera to be performed along with the film projected behind the orchestra and voice talent. The compact disc recording of Glass' "La Belle et la Bête" can be played alongside the film with a very similar effect. Note: the opera is recorded on two compact discs; hence it will be necessary to pause the film once while changing discs. In the US, the second DVD release of this film by the Criterion Collection gives the viewer the option of hearing the original soundtrack or the Glass opera version, which, in a sense, gives you two movies for the price of one. Glass has composed similar works for two other Jean Cocteau films: Orpheus (1950) and Les Enfants Terribles (1950).
For the role of the Beast, Jean Marais's outer body was covered with animal hair. "On my face there's a plenty of cracks, wounds and itches and my hands are bleeding" Jean Cocteau wrote when he was hospitalized during filming, "but the face and the hands of Jean Marais are covered with a so painful crust that removing it is similar to suffer my treatments".
The first screening took place before the staff of the studio at Joinville. Jean Cocteau was so nervous, he invited his friend Marlene Dietrich, whose hand he held tightly as the film unwound. The response, however, was enthusiastic.
Initially, Jean Cocteau and Henri Alekan clashed over the filming style. Alekan wanted to use soft focus to create his version of what a fairy tale would look like. Cocteau, however, insisted a more hard-edged style would make even the most fantastic scenes seem grounded in reality. After the first few days of shooting, Alekan declared the rushes laughably bad. As Cocteau persisted in pursuing his personal vision of the film, the cinematographer gradually came around.
Costumes had to be made from fabric scraps, and the props department had trouble finding sheets without patches for the laundry scene. With fabric in short supply, the crew often arrived at the studio to find Beauty's bed-curtains had been stolen during the night.
Jean Marais' face, hands and any other body parts not hidden by his costume were covered in animal hair. Once his fangs were in, he could not remove them, so he could eat nothing while filming except mush.
The popular song "Beauty and the Beast" by Stevie Nicks was inspired by this film. In 2007, she got the rights for the movie and it plays behind her as she sings the song. It is the last song in her set list.
Walt Disney was interested in adapting the fairytale "Beauty and the Beast" into an animated feature, but when this film released he felt discouraged and believed it wouldn't be as good as what Jean Cocteau did. Eventually Disney would adapt the fairytale as Beauty and the Beast (1991) (and its live-action counterpart Beauty and the Beast (2017)), to great acclaim; however both features are greatly influenced by this film.
Jean Marais originally suggested to Jean Cocteau for the beast to have a stag's horned head, remembering it from a detail in the fairy tale. This would have evoked the mythical echo of Cernunnos, the Celtic stag-headed god of the woods. Cocteau however refused the idea, fearing that to the modern audience a stag's head would turn the beast into a laughing-stock.
To create the living human carvings in the fireplace and other architectural elements in the Beast's castle, Jean Cocteau hired local children who were made up with plaster to look like stone figures. At one point, he even had the faces in the fireplace breathe smoke.
The farmhouse scenes were shot on a farm outside Tours near an airfield. Although the commanding officer was happy to give the company permission to film there, he did not always keep track of the shooting schedule. As a result, takes were often ruined by the sound of training flights overhead.
For the film's U.S. release conventional credits replaced the original ones, in which the credits were written in chalk and erased by Jean Cocteau's hand. This also eliminated the film clapboard seen between the opening credits and the written prologue.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Jean Cocteau intentionally made the Beast a sympathetic character and his alter ego the Prince a over-sentimental and saccharine character: "My aim was to make the Beast so human, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and future; it would expose the naivete of the old fairy tale that conventional good looks are ideal". The contrasting approach worked; so popular was Jean Marais as the Beast, that when he was transformed at the end back to human form, Greta Garbo famously said "Give me back my Beast!", Marlene Dietrich cried "Where is my beautiful Beast?", and letters poured in from matrons, teenage girls and children complaining to Cocteau and Marais about the transformation.