Friday, 24 February 2012

Bluebeard (1972)

Just when I think I’ve seen all the flamboyant, daft, naked pulchritude-filled European horrors of the 1970s something like this comes along to prove me wrong. Of course at first glance BLUEBEARD doesn’t look as if it’s going to be a piece of trash. Produced by Pierre Spengler and the Salkinds just before their blindingly good adaptations of THE THREE MUSKETEERS & THE FOUR MUSKETEERS, starring Richard Burton and Raquel Welch, and with music by Ennio Morricone, the film’s pedigree doesn’t suggest the pile of daft outrageous old rubbish that it actually is. But just scrape beneath the surface and we see the cast also includes Sybil Danning (who was one of the elements that made Roger Corman’s BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS memorable before appearing in HOWLING II and numerous women-in-prison flicks), Agostina Belli (from Italian OMEN rip off HOLOCAUST 2000) and Karin Schubert (COLD EYES OF FEAR, BLACK EMANUELLE, etc etc ad nudity nauseum). But the real secret as to where this film is coming from lies with its director. For some reason I thought Edward Dmytryk was a director of lavish big-budget old-style Hollywood pictures. Actually he’s the man who gave us Universal’s CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN and various other lunatic wastes of time for those so inclined. 
And if there’s a better phrase to describe BLUEBEARD than a lunatic waste of time I can’t think of it at the moment. Richard Burton gets out of his biplane, takes off his cunning concealing leather mask to reveal...a blue beard! Cue the titles in case we didn’t quite get that. There’s some nonsense about his face being mutilated during the war but as this is mixed in with something about how much his beard tickles it’s all a bit confusing. Dear old Richard is very rich Kurt von Sepper, who explains all this beardy stuff to Karin Schubert just before marrying her. For reasons that aren’t quite clear Karin dies in a hunting accident when Richard accidentally points his gun at her and shoots her. Retiring to play his massive organ while his dog wanders in to the most inappropriate introductory music for a canine in movie history, we then flash forward unannounced to Joey Heatherton’s awful dance act. Bewitched by her dainty clodhopping in red high heels Richard is soon inviting her back to his castle, marrying her and giving her surreptitious glimpses of his old serving woman Martha brushing the hair of the corpse of his dead mother before pushing Martha down the stairs. Joey has a nervous breakdown. Richard goes to Vienna, leaving her the keys to his castle but saying that on no account must she use the gold one. That’s because it opens a secret chamber where the preserved naked bodies of his former wives are kept. Unfortunately his naughty latest wife opens Pandora’s Box, which all proves to be a trap for her unwary self. Because he loves her more than any of his other wives Richard says that before he kills her he’s going to tell her all about why he did all of the other wives in. We’re about halfway through this two hour film now and the series of flashbacks that now ensue are the excuse for a string of cameos from various Euro-actresses who get done in by Richard in a number of silly ways including an eagle, a giant elephant tusk, being flogged and then drowned in wine, and being nailed inside a coffin. Most of them manage to end up naked before they die, except for Raquel Welch, probably more because it was in her contract than because she plays a nun in a series of increasingly revealing outfits. 
The whole thing is rounded off with Richard turning out to be impotent, and before you can say ‘so why did you marry all those sexy women if that was the problem’ he’s locked Joey in his custom-made freezer and gets himself shot by an assassin he upset as a child earlier in the film.
The big problem with BLUEBEARD is not that it’s daft, but that it isn’t daft enough. The first twenty minutes or so are a triumph of ludicrous dialogue, beautiful women and opulent sets, but this really needed a Robert Fuest or someone similarly mad to bring it all off. But the film isn’t an entire dead loss by any means, and any movie that has Richard Burton putting several bullets into a stuffed owl he has turned into the most bizarre taxidermical alarm clock so it won’t frighten his wife deserves an albeit very tiny place in cinema history.

1 comment:

  1. You are right, John. dmytryk did direct big Hollywood films eventually. the Caine mutiny was his, as was Marlon brando's the Young Lions. but he was blaclisted and returned to mad shite such as the British western Shalako