Bluebeard (1944) – Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Ulmer's take on the Bluebeard folktale debuts on Blu-ray
Bluebeard Screenshot

Today, Bluebeard. Dating back to the 17th century – and famously penned by the great fairytale writer Charles Perrault – the French folktale Bluebeard has been ripe for adaptation across many forms of media. Variations on the tale have been used for literature (by the likes of authors from Charles Dickens to Kurt Vonnegut), music (Jacques Offenbach, Bela Bartok and Paul Dukas have written operas based on the character) and especially film, with directors like Ernst Lubitsch, Edward Dmytryk, Claude Chabrol and Alfred Hitchcock giving their own unique interpretations on the character either directly or indirectly for either laughs or chills. However, one of the more notable takes came from Edgar G. Ulmer, a master of getting plenty of mileage from low budget trappings. A staple of the public domain video market, Paramount – the current rights holder – has licensed out Ulmer’s version for its Blu-ray debut for its 80th anniversary.

Bluebeard (1944)
Released: 11 Nov 1944
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 72 min
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Genre: Crime, Horror, Thriller
Cast: John Carradine, Jean Parker, Nils Asther
Writer(s): Arnold Lipp, Werner H. Furst, Pierre Gendron
Plot: In Paris, an artist hires portrait models, and after he finishes their portraits, he strangles them.
IMDB rating: 5.9
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 12 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 04/30/2024
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3.5/5

In 19th Century Paris, the entire city is in the grips of terror due to a string of murders committed by a “Bluebeard” who strangles his beautiful victims and dumps their bodies in the Seine. The Bluebeard that Paris fears here is Gaston Morrell (John Carradine), an artist and puppeteer who has a habit of hiring models to pose for his paintings before strangling them to keep his dark secrets hidden. However, when one of his paintings containing one of his victims is spotted by a policeman in a Duke’s exhibit, Morrell tries to give up painting – which triggers his murderous compulsion – out of love for his seamstress and model Lucille (Jean Parker). But old habits die hard, and Gaston’s old demons may just compel him to kill Lucille!

One of his better films from his Poverty Row period, Edgar G. Ulmer imbues Bluebeard with a sense of noir that was starting to take hold in Hollywood movies. In addition to directing, Ulmer also served as the film’s production designer and along with cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan (camera operator Jockey A. Feindel was the front for Schüfftan here, since the latter wasn’t part of the cinematographer’s union) create an atmospheric Paris on the studio backlots; a necessity given the film’s low budget and that the real Paris was still under Nazi occupation during the film’s brief production (Ulmer shot the film in just under a week). The film itself was something of a passion project for Ulmer, who had planned to make it his follow-up to The Black Cat (1934) until he ended up being blackballed by Carl Laemmle for the affair with Shirley Alexander, the wife of the Universal Studios head’s favorite nephew who would later become Mrs. Ulmer; in the end though, the wait proved to be worth, as Ulmer brings style to the proceedings while also adding some quirky touches as well (the film even features a puppet adaptation of the Gounod opera Faust that could rival the George Pal Puppetoons!). While the film basks in the noir-like shadows, there’s no real suspense about who the Bluebeard of the film is; the real fun comes from watching John Carradine – in arguably his finest hour as an actor on film – play his part with such great aplomb without having to play to the rafters as he often did in the character parts later on in his career. But Carradine is not alone here: he also has some solid support from the likes of Jean Parker, Nils Asther, Ludwig Stössel, Teala Loring, Henry Kolker, Emmett Lynn, Iris Adrian and Sonia Sorel (who would become Mrs. Carradine a year after the movie’s release). More chiller noir than horror pic, Bluebeard is another testament to Edgar G. Ulmer’s ability to transcend the film’s low budget roots and create a work of art that belies its Poverty Row origins; to put it more succinctly, it’s a movie that’s ripe for rediscovery and deserving to be mentioned alongside Ulmer’s masterpiece Detour (1945) as among his best films.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a HD master created in 2020 by Paramount Pictures. Film grain, gray scale and fine details are faithfully represented for the most part; however, the transfer does exhibit numerous scratches, tears and dirt present, given the fact that the movie has long been a staple of public domain home video releases. Despite that, this release is still likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and best those previous PD releases, due to fact that the image appears better resolved compared to said releases.

Audio: 4.5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Leo Erdody’s music score – which also incorporates excerpts from Charles Gounod’s opera Faust – are all presented faithfully with minor cases of distortion like crackling, popping and hissing present on the track. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and easily surpasses previous public domain home video releases of the movie.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Commentary by film historians Gregory W. Mank and Tom Weaver – Newly recorded for this release, Mank and Weaver go into the background on the making of the movie, including some battles with the Production Code office prior to filming.

Commentary by film historian David Del Valle – The second of the newly recorded commentaries for this release has Del Valle sharing some information on the movie – some of it overlapping with the Mank and Weaver commentary – while also sharing his memories of John Carradine and appreciation of Edgar G. Ulmer (his wife Shirley and Del Valle were neighbors for many years in Beverly Hills).

Bonus KLSC Trailers – The Mad Doctor, The Undying Monster, The Spider Woman Strikes Back, The Lodger, The Man from Planet X, Beyond the Time Barrier, The Amazing Transparent Man & Black Tuesday

Notably missing here is the featurette Bluebeard Unmasked! from the 2005 Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive DVD set from Image.

Overall: 4/5

Though often overshadowed by the likes of Gaslight and Shadow of a Doubt from the major studios, Bluebeard is still a nicely done little chiller with its unique charms, courtesy of Edgar G. Ulmer and John Carradine. Kino has likely delivered the best home video presentation of the movie, with a decent HD transfer and two informative commentary tracks as special features (although the featurette from the Image DVD set didn’t make the cut here). Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from previous DVD releases.

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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