Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bluebeard, 1944

Hell o Prisoners
Time for Movie #2, Disc #1 "50 Greatest Horror Films." That remains to be seen.......


PRC Pictures, Inc. presents
John Carradine in Director Edgar G. Ulmer's Bluebeard (1944)
Warning! Citizens of Paris
A murderer is in our midst!
Strangles young women.
Any person having information
concerning Bluebeard, please
contact the police at once!
The bells of Notre Dame toll as another body is pulled from the River Seine. It's not the first...or the last...

Three dressmakers leave work and head home. Two are visibly shaken by the posted declaration, but Lucille (Jean Parker), confident and independent, heeds little to the warning, laughing and poking fun at the others, when they meet Gaston Morrell (John Carradine), the puppeteer, who's been performing puppet operas in the local park. Bluebeard is not a who dunnit. The focus is on who and why he murders, not who he is. We know who he is, from the beginning. So who and why does Bluebeard murder?

Who? Models. Specifically, Portrait Models. Gaston was not a puppet maker to begin with; he was a portrait painter. And why?  When he was at a distinguished art school in Paris, he came across a very sick woman on the sidewalk, whom he nursed back to health. While she convalesced, he painted her, and in time, fell in love with her, but as soon as she was better, she bailed. He subsequently won the honor of having her portrait hang in the Louvre. He sought her out to share the great news, and found she was a common trollop. This killed him, so he strangled her. Sounds reasonable. No? Ever since then, every time he painted a portrait, he'd remember her, strangle the model, sneak through a secret passage in his apartment that led to the River Seine, and ditch the body.

He rented his room from Jean LaMarte (Ludwig Stossel), a local art dealer who sold his paintings. Morrell knew about his "freakish obsession", so Morrell had to keep painting, or LaMarte would turn him in. He had to succumb to LeMarte's blackmail, but he couldn't keep murdering the models, society frowns on that, and he was tormented, so he made puppets in the likeness of those he painted, and instead of killing the models, he would kill the puppets. It is unclear how many models were saved by simply having their doppelganger-puppet destroyed. One thing for certain, he liked Lucille, and he didn't want to kill. her.

On the street when they first met, she didn't know anything about the puppet operas. Morrell wasn't surprised. He told the modistes, since Bluebeard was around, there were less and less people at the performances. He offered to hold a special performance the following evening if the ladies were to attend. They agreed, and the following night the puppet opera, Foust's La Damnation de Faust, was performed by Morrell and his two assistants, a regular Joe, who seems to know a little more than Ulmer let's on, and a beautiful woman named Renee (Sonia Sorel). Renee was jealous of Morrell's apparent infatuation with Lucille, whom he talked to in great length after the performance about making new costumes for the puppets.

Lucille asked him about his process in making the puppets, and he told her that they were always in the likeness of someone he knew, and that he started by sketching. She asked him after whom the beautiful blonde puppet was fashioned, and if she meant anything to him. His demeanor instantly changed, and he answered, "Not anymore." She suggested he make another puppet in the likeness of someone that made him happy, like her perhaps? And he told her sure, but he'd never paint her. He figures it's time to switch things up a bit, fashion new puppets, for a new play, and, of course, they'd need new costumes. She was up for the task, and they part.

Renee is waiting for him when he gets home. She's jealous, and bitterly points out that she knows he'll come back to her when he's done with Lucille, and asks what happened to all the models he's painted. She's become a liability, so he strangles her with a satin cravat, which tears a bit in the process.

Shortly thereafter, Lucille visits Morrell to see about making the costumes. She spies the torn cravat on the couch, because it was made from such a beautiful textile. She notices the tear and is compelled to mend it much to Morrell's chagrin, who just wants her to throw it away, to which she replies, "It would be a crime". Great line by Screenplay Writer, Pierre Gendron. This whole scene is quite clever and entertaining. She keeps asking him questions, and he goes, "You ask too many questions." And she replies, "You don't like being asked questions?" and he goes, "No." and she goes, "Why, you got something to hide?" It was all quite comical, yet believable.

Meanwhile a couple of things are going on. LeMarte just sold Morrell's last painting, the one of the woman that was fished out of the river at the beginning of the movie, to the Duke of Carineaux and frequently displays his art collection. One of the guards recognizes the girl in the painting and informs Inspector LeFevre (Nils Asther) of the State Police who then visits the Duke and finds out where he procured the painting. Then LeFevre, as a patron, visits LeMarte to try and get him to reveal the artist's name by pretending that he wanted a portrait painted by the same artist that painted the one the Duke is displaying. It doesn't work, however, and so he organizes a sting operation with one of his undercover cops. Well, this undercover cop just so happens to be Lucille's sister, Francine.

Francine's been out of town, but upon her return to Paris, she went straight to visit her sister. As she was changing behind a changing screen, Lucille is visited by Morrell bearing roses. He doesn't see Francine, but Francine unwittingly catches a glimpse of her sister's suitor. She's come to Paris to work on the Bluebeard case. She and an older detective, Deschamps (Henry Kolker) visit LeMarte, posing as father and daughter, to see about getting her portrait painted by the same man that did the portrait in the Duke's collection. It must be done quickly though, as they are leaving for South America very soon. They offer to pay 75k, but LeMarte counters with 150k. It's a deal. LeMarte makes Morrell an offer he can't refuse. He agrees, but is certain it's a trap.

Deschamps and Francine arrive at the house, the sting will work as such. After Morrell starts painting, Deschamps will give the signal, lighting his cigar in the window, to the police outside, however, LeMarte is suspicious at the start and keeps a close eye on Deschamps and closes the curtain. Meanwhile upstairs, Morrell is painting Francine, but he is situated behind a curtain viewing Francine in a mirror strategically placed, so he could see her reflection. She was asking him lots of questions, and he was getting irritated. She finally caught a glimpse of him and recognized him as the suitor that visited her sister. Knowing he was Bluebeard, she freaked and blew her cover. She actually addressed him as Bluebeard and mentioned her sister. Is that lame or what? Well, that was the end of Francine. He strangled her just about the time LeMarte was downstairs waking Deschamps over the head with a blunt object.

LeFevre visits Lucille to give her the bad news. He was genuinely sincere, and saddened himself, as it appeared he and Francine had sort of a thing goin. To make matters worse, Bluebeard escaped, and all LeFevre has to go on was the satin cravat he was certain Bluebeard used to strangle his victims. She recognized it at once; you could see it in her eyes, and once LeFevre left, she confronted Morrell. Even though Morrell loved her, she couldn't go to the Police, so he tries to strangle her, but LeFevre is sharp, had a hunch from Lucille's reaction upon seeing the cravat, and followed her. The cops rush in before it's too late, and the chase is on. We arrive full circle, which I love by the way, cyclical plots turn me on, arriving at the Seine, when Bluebeard, plunges into the water below when the deteriorated brick on which he was perched gives way.

So what do I think? There are a couple of things that are unclear to me. One is, why do they call him Bluebeard? Bluebeard killed his wives. Sure, he killed women, but wives? It just wasn't a very creative title, since he killed no wives. Also, Renee's character is not developed enough, and it appeared that there was some history between them other than her simply being his assistant. She remarks that he always comes back to her. Now if she was his wife, then that would justify the title, but I don't think she was. I think she was just someone who "fell in love" with him, as he pointed out before he killed her.

All in all I give it a 3 on the flame scale. The lighting and the cinematography was good for the time. The costumes were lovely. The writing was engaging and entertaining. However, I have few peeves. Even though it's not a "who dunnit," I think we could have gone more than 20 seconds into the film before we meet the killer engaging in conversation with the heroine right in front of the Warning poster. It was simply just too predictable, in-your-face foreshadowing, and I have to admit, a little disappointing. The character development could have been better, for instance Renee, like I mentioned, and the other assistant, who seemed to know of Bluebeard's "freakish obsession" as LeMarte puts it.  And Francine. Did the French State Police really have American women undercover agents? I guess I'll have to look into that. It was a little too predictable for me, but well worth seeing. I enjoyed it (who can rank too hard on John Carradine), and will no doubt watch it again. I'll be listening for the assistant's name. Special shout out for Nils Asther as Inspector LeFevre! What a looker, and he played LeFevre brilliantly as far as I am concerned. Good stuff.
Until next time....Keep those fires stoked.
Eternally Yours,
Warden Stokely

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