Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Edward Dmytryk, 1972
Starring: Richard Burton, Joey Heatherton, Raquel Welch, Sybil Danning, Nathalie Delon, Virna Lisi

Anne, an American travelling cabaret-style singer and dancer, meets high-ranking, aristocratic soldier Kurt von Sepper along the course of her travels through Europe. They hit it off immediately and von Sepper proposes to Anne; soon after, she becomes his seventh wife. They are very happy for a time – travelling around Europe and exploring his world of riches and comforts. Everything is not quite right with the marriage, however: it has never been consummated. Things also go bump in the night in the castle and Anne has a bad scare and, as she puts it, a nervous breakdown. During her recovery, von Sepper travels out of town for a few days, leaving her with a set of keys to explore the castle. There is a little golden key that belongs to a door he begs her not to open.

Of course she has to use it and learns that the secret room contains several bodies in a walk-in freezer, preserved in a state of arranged chaos. Von Sepper makes a surprise early return and they calmly discuss the fact that he has seven murdered women in his house (six wives and a prostitute) and that he will have to murder Anne now that she knows the truth. In order to stall for time and in a bizarre twist on Scheherazade and A Thousand and One Nights, Anne convinces him to tell her all about his previous wives and why he had to kill them all.

I'm not sure which of the two taglines for Bluebeard is better: "Bluebeard loved all of his wives passionately... to death!" OR "He had a WAY with the world's most beautiful, most seductive, most glamorous women... he did AWAY with them." That pretty much sums up this 1972 adaptation of Charles Perrault’s famous French folktale, where a murderous nobleman dispatches all of his wives and hides their corpses in a secret room in his castle. The seventh, accidentally discovering their fate, attempts to outlive her predecessors.

The film takes that general concept and implants it in what I think is pre-war Nazi Germany. It's clear that the characters are Nazis, but their uniforms have strange crosses instead of swastikas. I'm pretty sure that is due to the filming location in Budapest. The Iron Curtain had some strict laws about depicting certain things in cinema and literature and fascism was one of the big no-no's. Early in the film, there is a disturbing scene where Baron von Sepper (Burton) leads a rendition of Kristallnacht, which kind of seals the deal on my assumption.

In absurd and frequently comic scenarios, von Sepper introduces each wife, all played by different sexy European starlets, and tells how incredibly annoying they all were, how they tried to seduce him, and then how he killed them. Von Sepper, as we learn, is obsessively frigid and sexual arousal tends to make him homicidal. His choice of wives doesn’t help matters, as one is a slutty ex-nun, another is so sexually inexperienced that she sleeps with a prostitute to learn how to seduce her husband, another won't stop singing, etc. The killings aren't particularly gory or graphic; instead they are along the lines of The Abominable Dr. Phibes, just a lot less creative and lacking a consistent theme.

Burton is extremely deadpan, campy, and amazing. If you’re a Burton fan (and you must be), Bluebears is necessary viewing. It’s often difficult for Joey Heatherton (Cry-Baby) to keep up and she occasionally becomes pretty annoying, but the running time is filled in with plenty of talented, sexy genre actresses. Sybil Danning (The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, Battle Beyond the Stars), Agostina Belli (Scent of a Woman, Night of the Devils, The Fifth Cord), Karin Schubert (Black Emanuelle), Marilu Tolo (Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!), Nathalie Delon (wife of Alain Delon, Le samouraï, Army of Shadows), Virna Lisi (La reine Margot, How to Murder Your Wife, The Possessed), and Raquel Welch (Fantastic Voyage, One Million Years B.C., Bedazzled) all appear as von Sepper’s hapless, though often deserving victims. They make for a great, often hilarious cast and sadly outshine Heatherton.

Bluebeard is campy, sexy, funny, and a little scary. Mostly, it's just scary how drunk Richard Burton is for the lengthy, two-hour running time. This film comes highly recommended. It is sheer '70s Eurotrash fun. Burton is amazing regardless of how drunk or bored he might be. The ladies are beautiful and sexy. There is a lot of humor, both intentional and otherwise. The costumes, set pieces, and use of ‘70s style are all very memorable. My only criticism is that the film is a little long, so you might want to make like Burton and bring along a few pints. I'm reviewing the single disc Anchor Bay, which is not restored, but the picture is still worthwhile. It's out of print, but cheap on Amazon and also available on Netflix.

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