Bluebeard (1972)
Bluebeard (1972)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.

Release Date: September 1st, 1972 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Edward Dmytryk Actors: Richard Burton, Joey Heatherton, Raquel Welch, Virna Lisi, Nathalie Delon, Marilu Tolo, Karin Schubert, Agostina Belli, Sybil Danning, Doka Bukova

 


 

T

he Austrian Baron Kurt Von Sepper (Richard Burton) arrives home to a large gathering of enthusiastic townsfolk, having piloted his own personal plane. When he unbuttons his mouth guard, he reveals a distinctly bluish beard, which frightens a little girl welcoming him with flowers. And for good reason, though she couldn’t possibly know it: he’s a deviously demented wife killer.

At a grand ball, Von Sepper woos the lovely young Greta (Karin Schubert), whom he marries shortly thereafter. During a large hunting venture thrown for their second anniversary, the baroness is shot and dies. The incident is deemed an accident, though Sepper clearly murdered her, and he secretly preserves her body like a trophy in his massive estate. It’s not long before he seeks out traveling American dancer Anne (Joey Heatherton), and they too begin a whirlwind romance, swiftly leading to yet another wedding.

As Anne settles into her luxurious but isolated new home and life, she becomes concerned about strange creaking sounds, shadows, potential ghosts, and the decomposing body of Sepper’s mother – whose dead hair is stroked by the elderly woman Marka (Mag Avril) – stashed away in a cavernous, cobwebbed tower of the castle (not unlike material from “Psycho”). Anne is unrealistically consoled by a flimsy story of Marka’s insanity, just before the baron plans a a trip to Vienna. The baroness is actually more concerned with being left alone, though she’s to be waited on by cute blonde maid Rosa (Doka Bukova). Anne also wonders why champagne, a nervous breakdown, and consistent distractions prevent a sexual consummation of her marriage. When her best friend Sergio (Edward Meeks) visits, she lets on about her suspicions, but he leaves before anything can come of it. Once Sepper finally departs, Anne is left to her own curiosity, having been given the keys to the castle but instructed not to use the lone golden one. Obviously, it doesn’t take her long before she investigates every single easily accessible room and, when Rosa heads into town for medicine, proceeds to poke at every hole in the palace to find the golden key’s receptacle.

Thankfully, there is plenty of ominous organ music, a score with screeching violins, a large gothic castle, a devilish falcon, massive chandeliers, lavish costumes, powdered wigs, an evil one-eyed white cat, a stuffed owl clock, torture devices, animal heads lining the walls of unoccupied corridors, and lightning, rain, and dust carpeting every locale. The sets and environments are incredibly appropriate. When Anne finally discovers Bluebeard’s ghastly, refrigerated trove of previous wife bodies, the audience is treated to vivid flashbacks of each woman’s demise as he explains to Anne how and why he murdered each one – before intending to finish off Anne as well. Physically beautiful, each female companion hides an inner unseemliness – or so justifies Bluebeard’s murderous reasoning. A singer (Virna Lisi) who annoyingly won’t stop crooning is the first to meet a bloody end (involving a very fake severed head); Erika (Nathalie Delon) is a penniless, inexperienced girl who resorts to upsettingly infantile frolicking and taking a lesbian lover (Sybil Danning) for instruction; a nun (Raquel Welch) reveals her offensively, incredibly lecherous past; Austrian grandstander, man-hater, and sadomasochist Brigitt (Marilu Tolo) is almost a challenge, spiteful and violent but always drinking red wine; and the redheaded Caroline (Agostina Belli) enjoys lazily basking in the sun all day, interested in nothing but relaxing. The revelation of Anne’s intended fate spawns a battle of wits like a classic duel – or an overconfident cat stalking a wily mouse.

Interestingly, in this 1972 adaptation of Charles Perrault’s horror folktale, Bluebeard is not a hideously ugly man, but rather a charmer with elegant conversing skills. He’s a war hero whose plane was shot down and, when slow to escape the resulting explosive crash landing, suffered severe burns only to his chin. Scar tissue prevents him from shaving and an unexplainably strange chemical reaction caused the discoloration of his facial hair. “You’re rich, handsome, and powerful, states Anne,” as Sepper coerces her into declaring her love for him. A literal blue beard isn’t enough to mar his manliness.

For no reason other than tawdry titillation, Sepper photographs Anne in revealing lingerie (after each bride is dispatched, Bluebeard also fondly hangs a photograph of cryptic tree branches). Additionally, Delon is instructed on how to striptease correctly; Welch is insatiable in a church; Tolo wants to be whipped in the nude; and Belli prefers to sunbathe on the lawn completely naked. It’s pleasantly gratuitous but largely plodding, since there isn’t enough exploitation to saturate a two-hour runtime. In the end, Anne’s only hope is to stall Sepper for an opportunity to escape, goading him into telling her the stories of his previous conquests. But despite the lineup of flesh and international sex symbols, the process proves overlong and borderline boring, unable to muster suspense to supplement the eye candy. Fortunately, it’s also campy and unintentionally hilarious on more than one occasion (especially when Bluebeard’s manhood is challenged), though the humor can’t redeem the poor structuring of flashbacks or the leaden scripting.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10