Bluebeard (1944) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: May 23, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
Bluebeard (1944) (Blu-ray Review)


Edgar G. Ulmer

Release Date(s)

1944 (April 30, 2024)


Producers Releasing Corporation (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: C
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B+

Bluebeard (1944) (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


Bluebeard is loosely based on the 17th century French folk tale by Charles Perrault. The tale has been the source of several adaptations in literature, music, and film. Directors Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch and Claude Chabrol provided their takes on the story. Edgar G. Ulmer—known for adding his unique stamp to low-budget movies—offers his own chilling version.

In 19th century Paris, the city is terrorized by a series of murders committed by a “Bluebeard” who strangles beautiful women and dumps their bodies into the Seine. Gaston Morel (John Carradine, The Grapes of Wrath) is an artist and puppeteer who hires models to pose for him. Renee (Sonia Sorel, Strange Illusion) performs in Morel’s puppet show and is his lover. But Gaston has become attracted to fashion designer Lucille (Jean Parker). He invites her to create new clothes for his puppet theater and eventually to pose for him. Renee, furious with jealousy, realizes that all the young women who posed for Morel suddenly disappeared. When she confronts him, he strangles her and dumps her body in the Seine. Lucille has no idea that Gaston Morel is the murderer who has terrified Paris.

Art dealer Jean Lamarte (Ludwig Stossel, House of Dracula) knows of Morel’s homicidal tendencies but keeps his secret because Morel’s paintings fetch large sums. But the normally discreet Lamarte is too greedy to turn away an exceptionally high offer for Morrell’s last portrait from a duke known for exhibiting his art collection. A policeman recognizes the model in the portrait as one of the serial killer’s victims.

To protect his beloved Lucille, Morel decides to give up painting, which sets off his murderous compulsion. Learning that Morel is likely the Bluebeard feared by all Paris, Lucille courageously agrees to work with the authorities, vowing to bring him to justice and putting herself in great peril to do so.

Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour, The Man from Planet X) gives the film lots of noir touches even though the film noir era was still a few years away. Ulmer was supposed to direct Bluebeard at Universal as a follow-up to 1934’s The Black Cat, but because of an affair between him and the wife of studio head Carl Laemmle’s favorite nephew, the project was canned. The film was made at “poverty row” studio PRC instead, so Paris is re-created, not especially believably, entirely on sound stages. Painted backdrops, claustrophobic sets, and basic cinematography reflect a limited budget. The script leaves little suspense as to the identity of the killer, but Ulmer does manage to create a sense of unnerving tension as we wonder when Gaston will snap.

John Carradine in one of his few leading roles elevates the film considerably. Conveying the murderer’s psychotic bent as well as his artistic talent and attraction to beauty, his Gaston far more complex than characters in other horror films of the period, which makes the film an oddity. Not exactly a horror film, it has elements of horror, police procedural, and noir. Less histrionic than in his character roles later in the decade, Carradine turns in a layered performance that many consider the best of his screen career. Ulmer’s close-ups of Gaston’s eyes widening as he strangles his victims are creepy and unsettling.

Jean Parker is pretty and serviceable as the damsel in distress. Sonia Sorel, in contrast, has fire in her performance as the unfortunate Renee. Sadly, she’s not on screen very long. Nils Asther as the police inspector is stiff. Ludwig Stossel adds quiet menace to Lamarte.

The film is only 72 minutes but drags with scenes that are sluggish and slow the narrative. This is mostly due to weakness of key supporting players and the lack of movement of both actors and camera. Too many scenes are stagey rather than cinematic. The puppet show—a marionette version of Gounod’s Faust—is far too long. Though it’s interesting to watch these wooden characters perform opera with the help of Renee and Gaston’s dubbed voices, the sequence seems endless. A shorter scene would have adequately established Gaston’s artistry and his relationship with Renee.

Paris is supposed to be in a frenzy over the murders of pretty young women, yet we never get that from the actors, who seem mildly concerned at best and show little hesitation about attending a nighttime puppet show. This is a major flaw. The atmosphere of fear and tension should have been palpable. A montage of townspeople in various states of fear would have set the tone of the film far better. We’re told all Paris is in dread fear, but we never feel it. Ulmer fails to set the apprehensive, tense mood that lays the groundwork for the grim murders to follow.

Bluebeard was shot by director of photography Jockey Arthur Feindel and uncredited Eugen Schufftan on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.37: 1. The Blu-ray is sourced from a 2020 HD Master by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan. For years Bluebeard was in the public domain and shown on TV with dark, scratchy prints. Though the Kino Lorber version is improved, it still has problems. Heavy scratches and dirt specks are visible during the opening credits. Throughout the film, scratches appear, sometimes light, other times as heavy white lines on the left side of the frame. Images are soft and lack the clarity of other restored and remastered older films. Set design has a cheap look, with paintings standing in for sets with actual depth.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Leo Erdody’s music plays continuously throughout and becomes annoying, since it doesn’t much enhance the visuals. John Carradine and Sonia Sorel are both dubbed for the operatic singing during the puppet show. Screams are a prominent sound effect, and the sounds of footsteps during a chase on Parisian rooftops adds excitement to one of the film’s few action scenes.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Gregory W. Mank and Tom Weaver
  • Audio Commentary by David Del Valle
  • The Mad Doctor Trailer (2:09)
  • The Undying Monster Trailer (1:05)
  • The Spider Woman Strikes Back Trailer (1:09)
  • The Lodger Trailer (2:16)
  • The Man from Planet X Trailer (1:53)
  • Beyond the Time Barrier Trailer (1:43)
  • The Amazing Transparent Man Trailer (1:46)
  • Black Tuesday Trailer (1:52)

Commentary #1 – Film historians Gregory W. Mank and Tom Weaver share this discussion of 1944’s Bluebeard. They say the film is an “art film of a horror film” and contains John Carradine’s finest screen performance. Gaston bristles with charm, torment, and a touch of Shakespearean tragedy. They compare elements of Bluebeard to Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Roget. Carradine was 38 when he starred in Bluebeard. His theatrical career is highlighted. He once headed a Shakespearean company that performed on Broadway. He became a Hollywood villain for most of his film career. Among his films are Stagecoach, Mary of Scotland, and Jesse James, in which he played Bob Ford, who shot Jesse James in the back. Bluebeard was a dream project of Edgar G. Ulmer, who had a considerable hand in the writing of the screenplay. Career overviews are provided for Nils Asther, Jean Parker and Ludwig Stossel. The Breen Office was concerned about the script, eventually approved it, but nixed Gaston’s suicide. The original shooting schedule was 12 days at a budget of $108,000, but the film took 19 days to complete at a cost of $157, 567. John Carradine’s salary was $9,333, Jean Parker’s was $5,833 and director Ulmer received $1,500. The PRC studio by 1943 was laying out a plan for bigger pictures and establishing a talent roster. John Carradine was a horror film star during the 1940s, appearing in such films as House of Frankenstein, Captive Wild Woman, Revenge of the Zombies, and Voodoo Man.

Commentary #2 – Film historian David Del Valle was a friend of John Carradine and a Beverly Hills neighbor of Shirley Ulmer for several years, so his commentary has a personal connection. During the 1940s, there was a proliferation of horror films produced by low-budget studios such as Monogram and PRC. Bluebeard was one of the earliest films to focus on a serial killer. Alfred Hitchcock had also dealt with a serial killer in Shadow of a Doubt. When Bluebeard was scheduled to be filmed at Universal, Boris Karloff was slated to star. At PRC, Ulmer gave the role to Carradine because he felt Carradine had outstanding talent that other films failed to exploit. The director was successful in restraining Carradine, who tended often to go over the top. Carradine noted that Bluebeard was his favorite film and one of very few in which he was the star. The studio wasn’t keen on the extended puppet show sequence but Ulmer fought for it, noting that the puppet characters were metaphors for the film’s characters. Carradine was a Renaissance Man who, in addition to acting, liked to sculpt and paint, as did Gaston in the film. Erdody’s wall-to-wall music is criticized as often intruding into the dramatic scenes. Summing up his discussion, Del Valle notes that Bluebeard is “an engrossingly poetic, modest little film with the unique charm and sadness of a more expensive movie.”

Bluebeard is reminiscent of a Universal horror film of the 1940s but without a monster, a werewolf, or a mummy to create chills. This feat is accomplished primarily by director Ulmer and actor Carradine. Working with a meager budget, Ulmer relies mostly on Carradine to sell the tale. The film could stand some editing to tighten narrative, and a number of supporting cast members are lackluster. The poor quality of the presentation is a distraction, since imperfections are visible throughout. Carradine makes the most of this starring role, modulating his performance so that it never becomes overly broad and theatrical. Despite Gaston’s horrific penchant to murder, Carradine manages to elicit sympathy for a deeply troubled soul.

- Dennis Seuling