director Edward Dmytryk
When I embarked on my mini Bluebeard moviethon, oddly enough it was this 1972 Edward Dmytryk-directed Richard Burton-starring film that was lingering at the back of my mind. For whatever reason, I recalled it being an older film, not relatively contemporary, which it must have been when I saw it in the 1970’s/1980’s. Howsoever I saw it, howsoever I remembered it, I’m almost positive that this was the film that was in my brain.
I mainly recalled the discovery of the many wives by the young current wife of the evil nobleman and then the recounting of the deaths of his numerous prior brides in their unique details. I read now that this was perhaps influenced by Italian Giallo films, but at the time would have been more recognizable to me as akin somewhat to the camp and gothic horror of Hammer horror films. Because the film is indeed campy, gothic, and strange.
What was more surprising to me this viewing than anything was the high titillation nudity of the many female stars. In ironic retrospect, that may be what the film is actually most remembered. I probably saw it edited for television and could only follow the sexual subtext without appreciating the topless actresses.
Richard Burton plays the Bluebeard of the film, with beard of blue. He’s a 20th Century figure, a WWI air hero now turned Nazi. He’s also given some explicit reasoning behind his murderous misogyny. He’s impotent. And obsessed with his mother.
The film has the odd structure of the main narrative taking up the first half of the film, which includes his wedding to Joey Heatherton, who plays his current wife and main protagonist. When she discovers his frozen vault of dead wives, she vies for time against his need to kill her as well in getting him to speak at length on what led to the deaths of his many other women. The second half is the series of flashbacks showing his wives as obnoxious, feminist, over-sexed, bisexual, or merely shallow, all reasons he cites for their various executions. Heatherton does get to call him on this, though it falls in between misogyny and a critique of misogyny.
The film features a very nice score by Ennio Morricone. It also features Raquel Welch, Sybil Danning, Nathalie Delon, Agostina Belli and others as the sexy (often topless) women he is driven to kill.
It’s far from a great movie. It’s overlong and gets tedious. But it jangled something in the old cobweb-encrusted mind. So strange.