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Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
"Well, this was some meet-cute!"
"It's how two characters meet in a movie. Say, a man and a woman both need something to sleep in, and they both go to the same men's pajamas department. And the man says to the salesman, 'I just need bottoms.' The woman says, 'I just need a top.' They look at each other...and that's the meet-cute."
- Arthur and Iris, The Holiday
I'd tell you how Michael Brandon (Gary Cooper) and Nicole de Loiselle (Claudette Colbert) met, but Arthur Abbott pretty much covered it. Maybe it's not the way one might hope a story about stumbling upon romance in the French Riviera might go, but whatever. This American business mogul had ventured out in search of a pajama top – and only a top, bottoms be damned! – and wound up finding the love of his life. And he attempts to deal with Nicole as he would with anything else he wants: impulsively and decisively with checkbook in hand. No matter how much her penniless Marquis of a father (Edward Everett Horton) might hope, Nicole isn't for sale. But she winds up falling for the guy anyway. The wedding's right around the corner, he's meeting her extended family for the first time, and they're all about to get a portrait taken when Nicole suddenly clues in: she's not the love of his life so much as another in a long line.
What's there to be sore about? Okay, okay, maybe "fidelity" isn't in Mr. Brandon's vocabulary, but all seven (!) of his ex-wives are still being taken care of. The pre-nup guarantees them fifty grand a year for life, tax-free. (That's in spitting distance of a million bucks these days, accounting for inflation.) But as Michael can surely appreciate, it's not about money for Nicole; it's the principle of the matter! If she's gonna be bought, she's not gonna come cheap: $100,000, with Nicole offering Michael her express permission to leap on over to Wife #9 whenever he's feeling the itch for a divorce. And hey, it's a deal! Alas, Mikey doesn't get quite what he paid for...
Wait, why am I writing this much about Bluebeard's Eighth Wife? Even for those who haven't yet been acquainted with the film, the names plastered across its cover – Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Edward Everett Horton, David Niven, Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Ernst Lubitsch – are really all the review you need. Even after more than eighty years, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife possesses such a capacity to surprise that it's almost painful to write a plot summary; I want to leave as much as possible for any prospective viewer to discover on his or her own. As often as its gags have been plundered over the decades – the premiere episode of Mr. Show less successfully riffed on its opening "retail employee runs a customer's request up the flagpole" bit, for instance – I hardly ever stopped laughing. The dialogue by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, in the legendary pair's first collaboration, remains superhumanly quotable. I can't possibly settle on just one exchange to highlight, so feel free to cycle through a few of 'em.
"Give us one more chance, monsieur. I'm certain that you will like apartment 418."
"There's nothing wrong with the apartment downstairs. It's that ocean!"
"But this is a different floor."
"But it's the same ocean!"
"But don't forget, monsieur, that up here, you're 22 feet higher."
"What sounds like a wild ocean on the third floor, on the fourth sounds like a little difficulty with the plumbing."
"Here's to our agreement: no lovemaking, no quarrels."
"Just like an ordinary married couple."
"I said 'no quarrels'."
"Right in the middle of a manicure, the proprietor came in and presented me with last month's bill."
"Did you pay him?"
"What do you think?"
"The same happened to me once with a doctor in the middle of an operation. You realize I'm probably the only living man with just one tonsil?"
"I thought your father was very well informed about me."
"He only knows about your bank account."
"And all I know about you is I liked you in a department store, and I hated you on a float."
"And I fell in love with you over a bathtub."
"Never buy a saddle on a chance that the horse will be thrown in."
At the end of the day, the central conflict between Mr. and Mrs. Brandon revolves around uneven power dynamics: something that obviously remains very much relevant today. Michael is a staggeringly wealthy tycoon – perhaps a self-made man – who's accustomed to getting precisely what he wants. But in the immortal words of the Bard, he ain't the sharpest tool in the shed. Nicole is the reverse. Even if the old money she comes from has long since dried up, her upbringing is otherwise beyond reproach. She's quick-witted, determined, and intelligent in ways that far outclass her husband. Nicole has too much self-respect to allow herself to be bought, and as long as that imbalance persists, they can't truly be together. Colbert and Cooper expertly realize these characters. Whether it's in romance or in battle, the two play off one other brilliantly, ensuring my investment every step of the way.
I can't help but love every last thing about Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. Its escalating absurdity ensures that my smirk never had a chance to fade away. The storytelling so often screams ahead at a manic pace – especially early on, with the barely-a-courtship taking place in such an absurdly short timespan – but takes the time to ensure that its best jokes land and that the Brandons' relationship genuinely matters. Led by the always reliable likes of Edward Everett Horton and David Niven, the supporting players leave an enormous impression as well. The production design and Colbert's drop dead gorgeous wardrobe unerringly hit the high marks so often associated with Paramount in these years.
As one could say for most any Lubitsch film, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife isn't the kind of movie you rent and have a good time with for a little while; it deserves a real commitment. Buy it. Really get to know it. Love it. Highly Recommended.
Before getting too deep in the weeds about the visual end of this release, let me just say that Bluebeard's Eighth Wife falls into that curious middle ground of "flawed but fine". It doesn't take a seasoned eye to spot the many issues with this presentation, yet even with as long as that list ultimately is, nothing struck me as the least bit ruinous. I'm about to drone on for paragraphs on end with all sorts of supporting pictorial evidence, but the review still closes with "Highly Recommended" in bold and italics. The problems are unmistakeable. Can't say that I care. Your mileage may vary. With that out of the way...?
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife's primary misstep is visible from its very first frame. Before that, even, since the issue is apparent on the preceding Universal fanfare as well. You see, the black levels throughout Bluebeard's Eighth Wife aren't black. Even the pillarboxing bars throughout the entirety of the film are decidedly milky. Fades to black are instead fades to gray. This will surely be more noticeable on your home theater than on your phone, tablet, laptop, or whatever other far-from-calibrated screen you're likely using to read this review, but...!
If you're bored enough to use a color dropper, you'll see that the values are 16,16,16 rather than the expected 0,0,0. Maybe that doesn't mean much to you, but on an OLED...? Glaring. Other video material on the disc, such as the KL Studio Classics logo, is properly authored with pure blacks. I found the elevated blacks in the film proper to be incredibly distracting at first, compelling me to test on multiple players and multiple displays. Once I relented, I wound up settling into it more comfortably than expected.
I've gotten so used to the flipsides of KLSC's releases boasting Brand New 4K Master! or Newly Remastered in HD from a 4K scan of the restored fine-grain master! Nothing like that is exclaimed in the press materials or packaging for Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, and I can't help but wonder if that's because there's not a whole lot to crow about. The opening fanfare – from an era when the logo still listed www.universalstudios.com – is one that Universal retired a full decade ago, suggesting that this master has more than a couple of years on it. (Other Paramount titles licensed from Universal confirmed to have been newly remastered, such as Christmas in July and The Great McGinty, don't open with any anachronistic fanfare whatsoever.) Given the lack of pure blacks, it follows that contrast doesn't rank among the greatest strengths of Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. Grain isn't as fine or distinct as I'd hoped to see, though there certainly aren't any signs of clumsy digital manipulation, thankfully. If this is indeed an older master, at least the definition and detail on display here have aged well enough. And maybe it's the result of squinting and staring at the screen too long, but the more I look at Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, the more dated and digital the presentation looks to me:
And virtually every frame of Bluebeard's Eighth Wife is peppered with light scratches, specks, and/or assorted aberrations. There's nothing nightmarish to fret about here – no tears, no judder, no stains, no wild fluctuations in density – but this isn't exactly the most painstakingly remastered film I've come across:
Look, I am absolutely the type of person for whom a substandard presentation can ruin a movie. Yet, despite that wall of text and all those screenshots, I can't honestly say that these issues diminished the overall experience here. Bluebeard's Eighth Wife isn't as crisp or sumptuously detailed as other Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases of this same vintage, but it's sharp enough. As weathered as the source material may be, that mild damage didn't pull me out of the story. Would I have preferred to see an immaculate remaster sourced from a shiny, new 4K scan? Of course, and yet I get why they would've signed off on this presumably older master that Universal supplied. Though less than ideal, it's the kind of okay I can deal with, and in no way does the presentation prevent me from recommending Bluebeard's Eighth Wife every bit as enthusiastically as I'd hoped.
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife has been pillarboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The film arrives on a BD-50 disc – an expense I wouldn't have expected, given the modest length of the film and lack of video-based extras. That's certainly nice to see.
Presented in two-channel mono, this 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn't leave me with nearly so much to ramble on endlessly about. With few exceptions, every element in the mix is rendered cleanly and clearly. There isn't the slightest issue discerning Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder's sparkling dialogue. Some very modest background noise occasionally rears its head, though it's easily shrugged off:
The only instance of clipping that caught my ears was Aunt Hedwige screaming at Mr. Brandon, not that that's anything the least bit unexpected:
I guess that's not the most exhaustive analysis, no, but that's just because I'm so perfectly satisfied with what I'm hearing here.
Also along for the ride are an audio commentary and optional English subtitles.
- Audio Commentary: Screwball comedy scholar Kat Ellinger delivers outstanding commentary. As terrific as her insight is regarding the film itself – particularly the characterizations of Nicole and Michael as well as the dynamics of their relationship – Ellinger particularly excels at placing Bluebeard's Eighth Wife in a greater context. She delves into how brilliantly filmmakers were able to work around the restrictions in these early years of the Hayes Code, why specifically Europe was a favored locale for comedies of this era, and the many misconceptions swirling around these films that feel more fresh and modern than is widely believed. Joseph McBride's argument that Lubitsch is better suited towards comedies of manners rather than the screwball variety.
Oh, and while there are a handful of trailers, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife isn't among them.
The Final Word
The conventional wisdom seems to be that Bluebeard's Eighth Wife is lesser Lubitsch, but lesser Lubitsch is still a damned sight better than most any other comedy I'm likely to come across. At the very least, I sure found myself hopelessly charmed and in stitches for 85 minutes straight. Bluebeard's Eighth Wife is so brilliantly crafted and devastatingly funny that it even trumped my most insufferable armchair videophile tendencies, and that's really saying something. Highly Recommended.