Bluebeard (1944)

“I knew I couldn’t undo the wrongs I’d done.”

The film Bluebeard  from cult director Edgar G. Ulmer is set in 19th Century France and begins with the police fishing yet another body out of the Seine. It seems that the residents of Paris live in fear of a serial killer who strangles his young female victims and then tosses them into the Seine. The beginning scenes of the film stress the atmosphere of fear that reigns in Paris–residents hurry home at night rather than face death at the hands of the killer.

Puppeteer Gaston Morrell (John Carradine) holds his puppet shows in the park, and the murders haven’t been good for business. After meeting dressmaker Lucille (Jean Parker) and her friends, Morrell invites them to come and see his puppets. After the puppet show, it’s obvious that Morrell is attracted to Lucille. While it is revealed that Morrell is the killer, the film stresses his motives and the detective work involved in solving the crimes. Lucille likes the softly spoken Morrell–who’s also a portrait painter–so the plot becomes a tense race against time as Lucille becomes more involved with the deranged killer. There’s also an interesting complication in the form of art dealer/landlord Jean Lamatre (Ludwig Stossel)–a man who shares some moral responsibility for Morrell’s crimes.

Director Edgar G. Ulmer makes splendid use of light and shadows to highlight the sinister subject at hand. Some of the best scenes take place under the bridges around the Seine, and it’s in these dark corners that Morrell feels most comfortable, using the sewer system as a short cut when hiding his crimes. One of the biggest complaints about these old film transfers to DVD is that the film is often either too dark or bleached out–obscuring action. But in my Alpha DVD the film is certainly watchable–however, the sound quality is poor and muffled.

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