As of 9/8/12, this film can be seen on Hulu
Bluebeard is one of those insanely mismatched films that could have only been produced in the 1940’s. It’s a Noir AND a period piece. John Carradine is in it, and he isn’t the only one who can act. There’s intrigue and tension, and it isn’t manufactured. Still, it isn’t bulletproof, and has it’s own trappings, but overall, it’s a movie worth watching.
Produced by Poverty Row studio, PRC Pictures, Bluebeard tells the story of a terror stricken Paris in the 1700’s. Bodies are being routinely found in the Seine river, all of them attractive young women. The writers do a good job building up the frenzy that takes over the city, showing mothers scolding their daughters about how “they were worried Bluebeard got hold of them.” The film really succedes in capturing Paris in the 1800’s, apart from some sketchy foley art. One scene in front of Notre Dame de Paris really sticks out as looking almost laughably fake.
Even before we know it’s him, John Carradine fits the bill of a killer. He skulks and slithers, looking creepier than usual, like a high school nerd in a trench-coat. He plays a Puppeteer (!) with a propensity for killing his muses. An unlucky seamstress is drawn into his creepiness, and dodges death while Carradine pines away and slays innocent young girls. I cannot understate how good he is at being a total creep. If it weretoday, he’d be following girls to their cars at Walmart and asking if they wanted to see his band/puppet show/what’s in his pant leg.
In a way, Bluebeard feels like a poor man’s “M”. The stories are similar, the feeling of a whole city going into hysteria is a common theme, andthe Noir style use of shadow plays a big part in both films. In all honesty, I didn’t expect to see such engaging use of light and shadow. The director of Bluebeard, Edgar G Ulmer, also directed “Detour,” a key movie in American Film Noir. Knowing this, it’s easy to understand how he sets the ambiance so well.
This film isn’t completely without fault, though. The music, attributed to Erdody (whoever that is) works about half of the time. When it doesn’t, it feels as if they weren’t even scoring the same movie, with dramatic swells and builds coming at lulls in the action. The movie also use themes from Classical music, notably Pictures at an Exhibition, as well as some others. It isn’t all terrible, but the times that are definitely stand out.
In addition, the ending is completely rushed, so much so that the denouement doesn’t feel satisfying at all. The whole movie builds to a fever pitch, and then ends so rapidly, the viewer has trouble making sense of the whole thing. Surely, you know how it ends, but the resolution is empty. It would be as if Gaston had to leave because “his planet needed him.”
Still, no film is perfect. I liked this film a lot. It was an unexpected surprise in a genre that can be full of dreck, and even though it fell flat some places, it is still a brilliant and under-appreciated noir.