Baron von Sepper is an Austrian aristocrat noted for his blue-toned beard, and his appetite for beautiful wives. His latest spouse, an American beauty named Anne, discovers a vault in his castle that's filled with the frozen bodies of several beautiful women. When confronted with this slight oddity, Bluebeard explains to Anne that he found an easier alternative to divorce when he grew bored with his previous wives. In order to avoid being Bluebeard's next frozen bride, Anne must find a way to outwit her murderous hubby. Written by
BLUEBEARD (Edward Dmytryk and Luciano Sacripanti, 1972) **1/2
In the past, I’d watched three other versions (four, if one includes Charles Chaplin’s variation MONSIEUR VERDOUX ) about the famous fictional serial killer Landru – the 1944 Edgar G. Ulmer/John Carradine and 1963 Claude Chabrol/Charles Denner BLUEBEARD and the W. Lee Wilder/George Sanders BLUEBEARD’S TEN HONEYMOONS from 1960.
Actually, this one is best approached as “Euro-Cult” (what with its flashes of nudity from a bevy of international beauties) rather than a historical piece – BLUEBEARD, incidentally, was a production of the Salkinds, soon to enjoy critical success with Richard Lester’s “Three Musketeers” films and, eventually, the money would come pouring in with the “Superman” franchise. Besides, the tone is unsurprisingly one of black comedy – with the titular ladies’ man revealed as an impotent who’s forced to kill a succession of spouses so as to keep this embarrassing fact a secret! Incidentally, it also transpires that events as depicted on-screen may well be fabricated since the real reason for the killings only emerges towards the end: “Bluebeard” – a WWI air ace – recounts his romantic misadventures to his latest conquest, a young American showgirl, after she’s cajoled by her husband towards the discovery of a secret passage leading to the vault wherein all the bodies of his former wives lie frozen!
The treatment is somewhat heavy-handed (with obvious predatory symbols, for instance): its connotations to Nazism, too, prove unnecessary – and, consequently, Bluebeard’s demise/come-uppance seems fateful when it should have been slyly ironic. All of which results in an uneven film with a tendency towards camp – though undeniably abetted by the overall handsome look (“Euro-Cult” regular Gabor Pogany is the cinematographer) and a typically imposing score by Ennio Morricone; incidentally, I had used portions of a funereal motif from the soundtrack of this film for my final short during the NYFA course I took in Hollywood a couple of years back! Individual contributions by the star cast, then, are also variable: to begin with, Richard Burton’s thespian skills were often misused during this particular period – lending his services to interesting but often ill-advised ventures (three more of which I watched only recently, namely DOCTOR FAUSTUS , CANDY  and THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY ); in this case, he sports a silly colored beard (the script having interpreted the title all-too-literally, but which might actually be an indication that it shouldn’t be taken seriously) and looks alternately bored and exasperated throughout!
The ladies are all easy on the eyes but also surprisingly willing, with Joey Heatherton as the stunning current bride getting the lion’s share of the running-time. The others – in order of appearance – are Karin Schubert (when Burton’s deficiency, excused at first by a period of convalescence ostensibly suffering from a war wound, can no longer be concealed, she threatens to expose him to public ridicule and this triggers off his homicidal ‘urge’!); Virna Lisi (enjoying herself as she drives Burton to distraction with her incessant singing of corny love songs!); Nathalie Delon (a model whose inexperience in love leads her to take lessons from prostitute Sybil Danning, but the two become instant lovers!); Raquel Welch (a nymphomaniac who attempts to stifle the habit by, ahem, donning it i.e. she becomes a nun!); Marilu' Tolo (again, fun as an outspoken feminist – who even kicks Burton where it hurts! – but who also turns out to be a closet masochist); and Agostina Belli (as an outwardly-innocent but actually spoilt child-bride).
Going back to that “Euro Cult” comment, BLUEBEARD may have been influenced by the giallo work of Mario Bava – with its set of glamorous female victims (as in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE ) and the novel methods of assassination (in the wake of A BAY OF BLOOD ). Still, amid its forced Hitchcock references (the embalmed mother from PSYCHO  and the falcon attack a' la THE BIRDS ), it appears that Burton & Co. were consciously emulating the previous year’s success THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) – a low-budgeted but stylish vehicle for horror icon Vincent Price. Of course, one can’t forget to mention the film’s affinity with the classic Ealing black comedy KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949) in its nonchalant, inevitably comical attitude to murder.
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