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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An artist...his cravat...and a tender throat. One out of three isn't bad when the artist is played by John Carradine, December 31, 2008
This review is from: Bluebeard (DVD)
It must have been frustrating to have the mastery of a craftsman and the instincts of an artist, but without the means, and most likely the talent, to put the two together. Instead, Edgar Ulmer became an ambitious director of low budget movies. Most are forgotten, but upon a few rests his reputation for style on the cheap. Watching them requires as much tolerance for schlock as appreciation for what a talented man can do with limited means. Which brings us to The Black Cat, Strange Illusion, Detour, The Strange Woman and...Bluebeard.

Gaston Morrell (John Carradine) is a painter and puppet master in turn-of-the-century Paris. Morrell's paintings never reach the level of excellence he aims he strangles the model, pitches the body in the Seine, and looks for someone else to pose for him. He often finds them when they come to enjoy Morrell's puppet shows. Right after a fresh body is found floating by the police, Morrell accidentally meets Lucille (Jean Parker), a milliner who, with two friends, are on their way home late one evening from work. All Paris, especially young women, are on edge with this killer on the loose. Before long Morrell is presenting his puppets in Gounod's Faust before a crowd in the park...and Lucille is there with her friends. Soon after, Lucille has agreed to make new costumes for Morrell's puppets and Morrell is becoming attentive to her. But wait. Inspector Lefevre (Nils Asther) has discovered a painting by an artist no one seems to know and the woman in the painting looks exactly like the fourth victim of the murderer the people of Paris now call Bluebeard.

The movie looks just fine with all those classy costumes, dark Parisian streets and, especially, the puppet show of Faust with which Ulmer starts things off. There's Marguerite, Faust and Mephistopheles on strings, with a premonition of what may come. It's an unusual and effective way to get us into the movie. Ulmer had to fight to keep it. The movie becomes too involved with the search for models and collectors; a lot of this is played for laughs or badinage. It is, after all, hard to picture Iris Adrian as French. Things also sag when Inspector Lefevre sets a trap for Morrell. But Ludwig Stossel brings us back to the issue of unstable artists who tie their cravats around other people's throats. Stossel plays Jean Lamarte, Morrell's unscrupulous art dealer who knows what's going on and doesn't mind as long as Morrell's paintings sell well and anonymously. Stossel was a great character actor. Here he is not playing a nice man.

But what quality the movie has, and it has glimmers, comes from Carradine as Gaston Morrell. Carradine gives a sad, shrewd performance as a driven man, compelled to paint, compelled to frustration, compelled to kill. Carradine chews not a single piece of scenery and never wrings his hands over his compulsion. Morrell's monologue an hour into the movie, trying to explain himself to Lucille, is a skilled, sympathetic piece of work. Gaston Morrell is a smart, sensitive, talented man who cannot help himself. Carradine doesn't just allow us to feel sad for Morrell, but to respect him in an uneasy way. It's a fine performance.

Carradine appeared in miles of celluloid trash in order to pay the bills -- four wives, five sons -- and finance during the Forties his own theater touring company. When he had a film role that called for it, Carradine could be excellent. Just watch him as Hatfield in Stagecoach, Jessie Wick in Swamp Water ( The Man Who Came Back ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - Netherlands ], Caleb Green in Son of Fury, Professor Madley in Fallen Angel (Fox Film Noir), Casy in The Grapes of Wrath...or his performance here as Gaston Morrell. John Carradine, I think, was a man to admire.

Be wary. The movie is in the public domain. The DVD transfer is not very good.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 3, 2009 1:40:17 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 3, 2009 1:42:14 AM PST
Gounod's "Faust"? Does the film by any chance identify who is singing? Films of that era sometimes captured the voices of superb artists for he purpose of dubbing. One that comes especially to mind is the use of the terrific tenor whose voice was dubbed for the villain Lasspari in the Marx Bros' "A Night at the Opera." I've never been able to identify him.

(I've posted a number of "yes" votes but, alas, in vain because Aunty Ammie now plainly regards me as one of your "fans.")

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2009 8:13:53 AM PST
No, unfortunately. Even IMDb's "Soundtrack' category doesn't name the singers. The movie came from the PRC studio, one of the cheapest of Hollywood's low-cost sausage factories. PRC wouldn't have paid a dime to singers if they could get some phonograph record of Faust from the past without cost.

Considering the few positive votes that ever show up on my reviews, Amazon has me convinced me that I must have millions of fans out there whose votes just can't get past Amazon's fan filters. But I appreciate those of yours which make it.

Perhaps the tenor was Walter Woolf King, who is listed on IMDb's soundrack category as doing "De Quella Pira."

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 4, 2009 1:39:54 AM PST
Well, that was enlightening. I simply never thought of WWK as the singer, because I'd always considered him a comedian--a comic villain. It seems that he'd had a career in operetta, starting as far back as 1919. However, he was listed as a baritone. There's a clip on You Tube from a very early sound movie in which he warbles an operetta-ish tune. The man was fairly good in a very old-fashioned way, but he definitely was a light baritone.

I suppose he might have pushed his way up into the tenor range for "A Night at the Opera," but if he did, the few bars he sang in that movie had to have been the very best things he ever did in his life.

He was singing the role of Manrico in the movie's version of "Il trovatore." That is one of the great dramatic tenor roles, and hardly to be matched in the Italian repertory. "Di quella pira (On that pyre)," is a little ditty that Manrico sings when he notices that his mother is about to be burnt at the stake as a witch. With its tremendous high-C ending--which Verdi only reluctantly approved, and that years after the premiere of the opera--it's just about the ultimate showpiece aria for Italian dramatic tenors (and a voice-killer for lyric tenors.)

About voting, I guess I can legitimately be called a fan, since you give voice to opinions that are remarkably similar to my own tastes in movies--and you almost always get there first.

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C. O. DeRiemer

Location: San Antonio, Texas, USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 2,113