B&W, 1944, 70m.
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Starring John Carradine, Jean Parker
AllDay (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
One of the key films by cult director Edgar G. Ulmer, this study of romance and madness in turn of the century Paris belongs to the tradition of such costume horrors as The Lodger and Hangover Square, both of which also presented sympathetic portrayals of their murdering protagonists. Gaston Morrell (John Carradine), a neglected painter, seems to be like every other struggling Parisian artist. However, he has one nasty flaw, namely a tendency of strangling his female models when he's through with them. His next potential victim, the lovely Lucille (Jean Parker), grows close to Gaston but remains unaware of his homicidal tendencies, while the courts and police anxiously try to track down this dangerous Bluebeard in their midst.
In an unexpected move, Ulmer decided to provide extra layers of subtext to his film by making Morrell not just a painter but a puppeteer as well. Thus, an imaginatively shot version of Faust performed with marionettes underscores the film's theme of love's deprivation driving a man to dangerous levels of madness. Carradine shines in perhaps his greatest role, though surprisingly he remains offscreen for several long stretches of the story. Because Bluebeard was produced by the notorious poverty row studio PRC, its preservation has been largely hit or miss (but mostly miss) over the years. The film's skimpy production values dictated that it be shot on cheap film and badly processed, so a few sequences such as the climactic chase by the Seine suffer from poor exposure and a heavy saturation of grain.
Most viewers have had to content themselves with blurry, unwatchable public domain tapes over the years, but AllDay's DVD presentation is, relatively speaking, a tremendous improvement. Apart from the inherent flaws in the original film and a badly damaged credit sequence riddled with vertical scratches, the film looks vastly superior in this French-preserved edition, featuring a much richer contrast scale than ever before and a pleasantly steady image. It doesn't shine like a multimillion dollar restoration job, but considering this marginal title has almost slipped into oblivion, the DVD represents a welcome save by AllDay. The disc contains a fascinating inside booklet detailing all of PRC's suggested marketing strategies, as well as a twelve minute documentary, “Bluebeard Revealed,” featuring color footage of the Faust production and interviews with principals involved in its production.