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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

BLUEBEARD (1972)

Richard Burton hit the classics in ‘72 with a film of Dylan Thomas’s radio play, UNDER MILK WOOD, a forgotten Faustian fable from Peter Ustinov, HAMMERSMITH IS OUT, and this odd take on Bluebeard, that legendary ladykiller. The films were all disasters, but this one, a late effort from vet Hollywood helmer Edward Dmytryk, isn’t bad in the way you expect. The Hungarian-based production is surprisingly lux, handsomely shot by Gabor Pogany, and the tale fits nicely into its Old Europe/Fascist ‘30s setting. But the script plays out like a check list of aristocratic rue, with an unvaried pace and uninventive murders. Dmytryk seems out of his element, unable to lighten Burton’s ghoulish purring or deathmask demeanor. Some of the international crew of wives show a bit of spunk (unlike the impotent Bluebeard) and lots of bare breasts (which repel him); alas the most screen time goes to Joey Heatherton, inept as his last wife. (Raquel Welch looks yummy as a highly experienced nun, but her big confession only makes you hark back to Stanwyck’s similar tell-all in THE LADY EVE/’41.) As told here, it all boils down to sexual inadequacy, an explanation that feels . . . er, inadequate. WARNING: This film contains Wild Game Hunt footage.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Edgar Ulmer’s BLUEBEARD/’44, with John Carradine & some memorable puppets is effective zero-budget fare, and there’s the similarly themed THE HONEY POT/’67, Joe Mankiewicz’s failed VOLPONE update. That leaves Chaplin’s MONSIEUR VERDOUX/’47, itself a disconcerting mix of brilliance & heavy-handed dramatics. Maybe it’s best stay in Hungary with a CD of Bartok’s great one-act opera, BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE. Try Bernard Haitink on EMI with Anne-Sophie von Otter & John Tomlinson. Close your eyes to watch.

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