Friday, July 5, 2013

Worth Watching: Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)

Title: Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Language: English
Rating: Unrated

This movie succeeds because it's consistently ridiculous and funny. It doesn't let the tone ever slip to melodrama or serious romance; it's a farce from beginning to end, where the characters behave as if the hilarious things they say or do are matter-of-fact. The story finds some inspiration from The Taming of the Shrew, which the husband - played by Gary Cooper - turns to for some guidance in how to deal with his wife. However, he's the one who winds up tamed, and not by being denied food or clothing, or getting mentally beaten into submission.

Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife

At the start, we watch an unconventional courtship between Nicole De Loiselle (Claudette Colbert) and Michael Brandon (Gary Cooper). She's the daughter of a nearly bankrupt French nobleman, the Marquis De Loiselle (Edward Everett Horton), and he's an American tycoon who's so thoroughly used to getting everything he wants in life that he doesn't even act arrogant about it; it's just as natural as breathing to him. Their courtship is rocky, and centers in large part around a bathtub that once belonged to Louis XIV.

Gary Cooper in Louis XIV's bathtub

Finally, she agrees to marry him, but after the engagement finds out that he's been married seven times before; each time he sent his wife off with a tidy divorce settlement and moved on to the next one. Nicole is determined, however, to marry him for life - and so sets about her plan to end his long stint as a serial groom.

Colbert is wonderful here, acting with charm and impeccable comedic timing. Cooper's funniness stems mostly from his straight-faced demeanor, and the rare occasions he lets it crack. Horton's performance as the penniless Marquis is also a treat. He's a shameless old gold-digger, eager for his daughter to marry this tycoon, whether for a month or for life, it doesn't matter ("Are you a father or an auctioneer?" she asks him at one point).

E. Everett Horton, Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper

Lastly, there's Albert, played by David Niven as a polite and ineffectual fellow. He's another one of Nicole's suitors; you can tell what kind of a chance he has with her when he describes himself as "the only living man with just one tonsil."

David Niven and Claudette Colbert

As I said, this kind of movie only works if it stays consistently ridiculous, and it can get away with being ridiculous only if it's consistently funny. There are a lot of witty lines, a mountain of double entendres, and just a general feeling of fun throughout.

*All images link back to their sources (The Gary Cooper Scrapbook and Deeper into Movies).