Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer [Other horror films: The Black Cat (1934), The Man from Planet X (1951), Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)]
Having seen this one about three times now, I have to admit that it’s never done much for me. The story is fine, and John Carradine does particularly well in it, but overall, Bluebeard just doesn’t impress me.
Generally, the plot’s perfectly enjoyable. I sort of like the brief side-step they took with the portrait subplot, which added a bit more meat to the film, and the conclusion’s pretty decent also. Carrdine’s presence here really brings life to the antagonist of the film, so that’s a plus.
Somewhat unfortunately, Carradine’s about the only performance here who really glowed. Jean Parker and Teala Loring were virtually indistinguishable to me, and Ludwig Stössel, while an interesting character, had a bit of an accent to him, and was hard, at times, to really decipher.
Which may not really be his fault, as the audio and visual quality of this film has somewhat faltered over the last eighty years. The most common print has pretty bad audio, and it’s not uncommon for some of the dialogue to be drowned out by background music. The black-and-white is a bit muddled, and while it’s not overly distracting, it is noticeable. Even if you can look past that, though, I’m not convinced that the film is all that enthralling.
Bluebeard is a story that’s been made multiple times within the genre, the earliest version, titled Barbe-bleue, is from 1901 (and, for a short from such an early period of cinematic history, it’s not that bad). Maybe that’s part of the issue – this movie, at 70 minutes, just feels too drawn out, and while some of the film is perfectly solid, after having seen it multiple times, it’s continually let me down.
If you see this for any reason, let it be for Carradine, who is fantastic, especially toward the end of the film. His character’s sanity toppling toward the end as he recounts the origins of his crimes was pretty spectacular, in a Povery Row type of way.
This said, ultimately, Bluebeard isn’t one of those 40’s movies I’d go out of my way to recommend. It might be okay for a single viewing, but I don’t think multiple viewings will do much for you, no matter how fun Carradine is here. By no means a god-awful film, I do feel it’s below average, and pretty much always have.