Lionsgate // 1972 // 124 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // December 16th, 2007
He had a WAY with the world's most beautiful, most seductive, most glamorous women...he did AWAY with them.
Richard Burton certainly had a way with women, romancing some of the screen's great beauties and twice marrying ultimate movie queen Elizabeth Taylor. Burton was a great actor who, unfortunately, became a movie star and reveled in all the excesses that stardom offered.
He was 40 when he gave what is arguably his best performance in a film, 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and while he had a couple of good films left, the remaining years were not kind. To recount Burton's choices after Woolf is like reciting an evil incantation -- Staircase, Hammersmith Is Out, The Klansman, The Assassination of Trotsky, and the holy-water defying Exorcist II: The Heretic.
And that's just a random sampling.
The story of a man who is irresistible to women but just can't stop murdering them, Bluebeard should have been the perfect role for the aging sex symbol. This was to be a cynical black comedy with political overtones, directed by a talented veteran and Oscar nominee (Edward Dmytryk, Crossfire), and Burton would get to co-star with bouquet of international beauties -- and Joey Heatherton.
Unfortunately, Bluebeard is neither sexy nor funny. Erotic as a whoopee cushion, amusing as a hangnail, this is one confused piece of work. It's Eurosleaze for middle America, an artless oddity that's quaint and coy when it should be outrageous.
The film takes place sometime between the two World Wars, and Burton plays a WWI hero, Baron Kurt von Sepper. OK, so he wasn't a hero to our side, but he's well-loved and respected in his own country and a member of a nasty political party peopled with thuggish types who wear shiny patent leather and red armbands. Lest you think they're Nazis, look closely: Instead of a swastika, they have something that looks like a four-way lug wrench as their insignia.
We spend about an hour watching the Baron's courtship and eventual marriage to American floozy Anne (the horrible Heatherton). Then Anne discovers a freezer filled with her hubby's former paramours, and she must match wits with her kill-crazy spouse and listen to him ramble on about all the girls he ever snuffed.
And this is the movie's raison d'etre, half-a-dozen scenes of "international beauties" who fall for the dissipated Baron, doff their tops, and are dispatched. Well, they don't all doff: Virna Lisi and Raquel Welch offer minimal flesh before being respectively guillotined and suffocated. Other than Sybil "Chained Heat" Danning, I had no idea who the rest of these women were; fortunately, I happened upon a poster from the film's original release, which not only lists the names of the actresses, but the methods of their demise. So much for suspense.
As the jaded Joey surmises, Baron Bluebeard (so named because he sports what looks like one of Wendy O. Williams' old mohawks on his chin) doesn't really enjoy the old in-and-out; as a matter-of-fact, he can't perform at all. It seems the Baron is all schnitzel and no wiener. When the little ladies get to feeling amorous, he...well, you know the rest.
Of course, all the women pretty much bring these fates on themselves. One does nothing but sing, another can talk about nothing other than her old conquests, a man-hating early feminist becomes a demanding masochist. And so on. Burton seems disconnected from the whole enterprise, so there's nothing exhilarating, or particularly entertaining, about the murders. They just end the scenes.
A big problem here is that everything is drawn out. Vignettes that should run two or three minutes last five times that; bits of exposition and explanations for things we already know are repeated endlessly; and the whole faux-Nazi thing keeps roaming in and out of focus, like there was some kind of internal struggle as to how much bad taste could reasonably be inflicted on the audience.
Burton's accent changes so much that sometimes Bluebeard comes off like an audition reel for voice-over work. It's a strange and mesmerizing mélange: a little Lugosi, a little von Stroheim, a little bit of whatever Olivier would do a few years later in The Boys from Brazil. As the last of the red-hot bimbos, Heatherton is heinous, but she does favor us with a quick look at one of her breasts, thus making this performance intrinsically better than her next great role, as Xaviera Hollander in The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington.
Even fans of terrible movies won't find much to celebrate here. Lionsgate gives us a dreary, flawed, non-Anamorphic letterboxed transfer and mono sound. It's a shame the transfer is so weak, since the art direction and cinematography aren't half bad.
We get no extras, not even a trailer. Now, I found this movie to be deadly dull and horribly acted, and I was put off by scenes in which animals (the four-legged kind) were killed or brutalized; however, there are people who consider this to be a treasure trove of campy fun. If Warner had this title, it would have made a nice addition to their set Cult Camp Classics 2: Women in Peril. Lionsgate missed an opportunity here; with a little polish and a few fun extras, this could have been the Bad Movie Release of the Year.
Bluebeard is a terrible movie about a terrible person that features terrible acting and a terrible script. Calling it guilty is almost redundant.
So I'll say it again.
Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Official Richard Burton Site
* Bluebeard Poster