A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (Ernst Lubitsch, 1938)

David Niven, Gary Cooper, and Claudette Colbert in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
Nicole De Loiselle: Claudette Colbert
Michael Brandon: Gary Cooper
The Marquis De Loiselle: Edward Everett Horton
Albert De Regnier: David Niven
Aunt Hedwige: Elizabeth Patterson
M. Pepinard: Herman Bing
Kid Mulligan: Warren Hymer
Assistant Hotel Manager: Franklin Pangborn

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
Based on a play by Alfred Savoir and its English adaptation by Charlton Andrews
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Art direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher
Film editing: William Shea
Music: Werner R. Heymann, Friedrich Hollaender

Almost anything goes in screwball comedy, but why does Bluebeard's Eighth Wife feel just a tad off the mark? It has everything going for it: director, screenwriters, stars and supporting cast. But something seems to be missing. There are those who think Gary Cooper is miscast, but Cooper pulled off similar roles -- lovable eccentrics like Longfellow Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra, 1936) and Bertram Potts in Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941) -- and director Ernst Lubitsch had established Cooper's gift for sophisticated comedy in Design for Living (1933). There is a certain lack of spark between Cooper and his costar, Claudette Colbert, but that's partly because their characters are not supposed to spark but rather flare. I think the fault lies mainly in the script, which springs Michael Brandon's many previous marriages on us as a surprise and never makes us feel that they're integral to his character. I suspect that the Production Code, which was administered with a heavy hand by Catholic laymen like Joseph I. Breen, blue-penciled so much of the humor surrounding Brandon's divorces that they no longer get the attention they deserve. Still, Cooper and Colbert et al. are fun to watch, and it may be that they are so much more fun to watch in other movies that Bluebeard's Eighth Wife simply suffers by comparison.

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