Cast & Crew
Edgar G. Ulmer
In nineteenth century Paris, the citizens are warned that a "Bluebeard," a strangler who preys on women, is at large. Lucille, a modest seamstress, disregards the warning, however, and while walking down the street one night with her friends Constance and Babette, she encounters puppeteer Gaston Morrell. When Lucille praises his skill, Gaston offers to stage a show for her and her friends the following evening. After the performance, Gaston invites Lucille backstage and, seeing how fascinated she is by his puppets, asks her to sew some new costumes for them. When Gaston explains that he fashions his puppets from people he knows and that the figure of Marguerite was modeled after a friend who met a tragic death, Lucille tries to cheer him up by inspiring him to create a new puppet and Gaston offers to design a figure in Lucille's image. Upon returning home that night, Gaston is reproached by Renee, a puppeteer in his show, who jealousy upbraids him for his faithlessness. When Renee questions Gaston about the mysterious disappearance of the women with whom he has dallied, he pulls off a cravat from around his neck, strangles her and dumps her body in the Seine. The next day, Inspector Lefevre of the Paris police summons Gaston to identify Renee's body. After leaving the police station, Gaston orders Le Soldat, his assistant, to escort Lucille to his studio. There, Lucille finds Gaston's torn cravat and mends it for him. After she leaves, art dealer Jean Lamarte comes to inform Gaston, who secretly paints women's portraits, that he has sold the puppeteer's newest portrait . Lamarte, who knows that Gaston is driven to murder his models, and usually sends his portraits out of the country and away from the eyes of the authorities, confesses that he sold this last painting to a duke who resides in Paris. When the duke decides to exhibit his collection, Lefevre attends the exhibition and recognizes the woman in the portrait as the latest murder victim. Told by the duke that he purchased the painting from Lamarte, Lefevre questions the art dealer, who claims he bought the work from an old man whose name he does not know. Soon after, Lucille's younger sister, Francine, an operative in the French police force, returns home from abroad, and as she dresses behind a screen, Gaston delivers a bouquet of flowers and a puppet to Lucille. After he leaves, Lefevre, Francine's superior, visits and when Francine learns about the strangler, she proposes that she pose as the daughter of a wealthy South American businessman and commission a portrait from the artist. Posing as her father, Inspector Renard approaches Lamarte about hiring the artist of the duke's paining to render a portrait of his daughter. When Lamarte offers Gaston a large sum of money to paint the portrait, the artist, who is in debt to Lamarte, agrees on condition he can use the studio above Lamarte's shop. After Lamarte contacts Renard, the police plan a trap in which the lighting of Renard's cigar will signal the waiting officers to enter the shop. When Renard and Francine arrive at the shop, Lamarte instructs Renard to remain downstairs while he escorts Francine upstairs to the artist's studio. Nervous about revealing his identity, Gaston paints from behind a sheet, tracing Francine's reflection from a mirror. Upon returning to his office below, Lamarte becomes suspicious of Renard's pacing in front of the window and draws the curtain. Upstairs, meanwhile, Francine, determined to uncover the artist's identity, insists that he pose her, and when he steps from behind the sheet, she recognizes Gaston and accuses him of murder. When he loosens his cravat and starts to strangle her, her screams alert Renard, who tries to signal for reinforcements but is knocked unconscious with a candlestick by Lamarte. Thinking that Lamarte has betrayed him, Gaston strangles him with his bare hands, just as the police, impatient for the signal, break down the door. Gaston escapes through a hidden passage and later reappears at Francine's funeral, where he offers Lucille his condolences. Noticing the unusual material of Gaston's cravat, Lucille follows him back to his studio and asks to see the cravat that she had previously mended. When Lucille demands to know why Gaston had refused to paint her, he confesses that he is in love with her and discloses his tormented history as a struggling artist: Finding an unconscious girl prostrate on the street one day, Gaston took her home, nursed her back to health and began to paint her portrait. After Gaston finished the painting and delivered it to Lamarte, his model, Jeanette, deserted him. When the painting was awarded the honor of hanging in the Louvre, Gaston searched for Jeanette to tell her the good news. Upon discovering that she has embarked upon a tawdry and debased life, Gaston, repulsed, strangled her, and from then on, he saw Jeanette in all his models and strangled them. Unable to forgive Gaston for murdering her sister, Lucille threatens to go to the police and he attacks her. Just then, Lefevre, who has followed Lucille, breaks down the door, and Gaston flees to the roof. As the police pursue him across the rooftops, Gaston slips and falls to his death in the Seine.
Edgar G. Ulmer
Barlow & Baker
C. A. Beute
Jockey A. Feindel
Werner H. Furst
Raoul E. Pagel
Glenn P. Thompson
Edgar G. Ulmer
James H. Wade
Bluebeard (1944) is considered one of Ulmer's best pictures. Originally intended as a follow-up to his macabre classic The Black Cat, Ulmer had to wait a decade and work with John Carradine instead of Boris Karloff as planned. Carradine, however, came through with probably his best performance as a painter and puppeteer who has the nasty habit of killing his models.
Ulmer was his own set designer for this movie, recreating his beloved Paris on the lot of Poverty Row studio PRC. Although shot in only six days, it displays a high level of acting and camera work and contains a particularly notable and effective sequence, a puppet show version of the Faust legend. Although he said PRC was unhappy with the finished product, Ulmer was proud of his "lovely picture," which, he later told admirer Peter Bogdanovich, "earned tremendous money in France."
The legend of the murderous Bluebeard had already been a folktale by the time it was written down by Charles Perrault in 1697. The cautionary tale of the dangerous husband/lover, purportedly based on a real-life serial killer of the 15th century, took many forms over the years. In films, the character has been everything from a deranged World War I pilot (Richard Burton in a 1972 version) to a loving Parisian father who seduces and kills women in order to feed his brood (Charles Denner in Claude Chabrol's Landru, 1963). Charles Chaplin directed and played in a version of the legend in Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Ernst Lubitsch spoofed it in Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938), starring Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert.
His role in this film is reportedly John Carradine's personal favorite. A prolific player whose career spanned hundreds of films over about 60 years, Carradine rarely got the chance to carry a film as he does here, although he received praise for a number of classical stage roles, such as Hamlet and Malvolio. On screen, he was always a quirky, often unconventional character lurking in the background of many fine films. Part of John Ford's stock company, he appeared in 11 of that director's pictures, as well as a large number of other Westerns, enough to earn him induction into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 2003. But despite his range and talents, he is most often - and rather unfairly - associated with the horror genre, mostly because of his gaunt looks and distinctive voice. He is the father of actors Keith, David and Robert Carradine.
Much of the cast will be familiar to connoisseurs of character actors and supporting players. Nils Asther (LeFevre), a Dane often cast in more ethnically "exotic" roles, was the title character in the Frank Capra-directed Barbara Stanwyck film The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) and in the 1920s and early 30s also played leading man to Garbo, Crawford, Pola Negri and others. Early in her career, Jean Parker (Lucille) had a promising start as Beth, the doomed sister in Little Women (1933) opposite Katharine Hepburn. While she never achieved top stardom, she worked in film and on stage into the 1970s and was also an accomplished clothes designer. Iris Adrian (Mimi) was one of Hollywood's busiest character actors and bit players. The year before this movie she played one of the smart-talking strippers in the Stanwyck mystery-comedy Lady of Burlesque (1943). Late in her career, she turned up in a string of Disney hits, including The Love Bug (1968) and Freaky Friday (1976). Austrian-born Ludwig Stossel (Lamarte) had a 30-plus-year career in film and television playing a range of Germanic characters for everyone from Fritz Lang to George Cukor and turning up in such films as Casablanca (1942), The Merry Widow (1952) and Elvis Presley's G.I. Blues (1960), Stossel's last picture.
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Producer: Leon Fromkess
Screenplay: Pierre Gendron, based on a story by Werner H. Furst and Arnold Phillips
Cinematography: Jockey Arthur Feindel
Editing: Carl Pierson
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola. Angelo Scibetta
Original Music: Leo Erdody
Cast: John Carradine (Gaston Morrell), Jean Parker (Lucille), Nils Asther (Inspector LeFevre), Ludwig Stossel (Jean Lamarte), Iris Adrian (Mimi), Henry Kolker (Deschamps).
by Rob Nixon
Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive on DVD
The disc comes from the independent company Allday and its owner David Kalat has included a score of extras that offer teasing glimpses of Ulmer's unique genius. The lamentable condition of most of Ulmer's work makes appreciating him sometimes resemble a search for artifacts, and Kalat's presentations are better than can be seen anywhere else. The most impressive film in the group improves the quality of an earlier disc and comes with one of the disc producer's exemplary audio commentaries.
Starting chronologically, Moon over Harlem is one of Ulmer's adventures in ethnic filmmaking. Blackballed from studio work after filming his The Black Cat at Universal, Ulmer made all kinds of features and documentaries, eventually directing a number of Yiddish and Russian 'old country' musicals in New Jersey -- according to one source, the farm leased for the filming of one Fiddler on the Roof-style show about Russian Jews was right next door to property often used for meetings of the German Bund. This story of vice and virtue in the rackets and nightclubs of New York's Harlem was filmed in 16mm for almost nothing yet features a large cast. In an interview videotaped shortly before she passed away, Ulmer's wife and co-producer Shirley Ulmer recounts that she rewrote the entire script, and the lively, all-black cast creates some vivid characters.
In perhaps the first true representation of how rackets really worked, a gangster thinks he can outwit the white crime organization that runs vice in Harlem. He marries a woman to be near her beautiful daughter, who for her part wants to become a singer. The daughter is attracted to a political reformer and sparks fly. Much of the acting is stilted but the film has a general honesty missing in later Blaxploitation pix. Moon over Harlem comes with two added films, a 1940s public service short called Goodbye Mr. Germ and an unsold 1958 TV pilot filmed in color in Mexico, Swiss Family Robinson.
Bluebeard is one of Ulmer's best known pictures, a well-liked horror item that makes a sympathetic character of its mad killer, a talented painter and puppeteer in 19th century Paris. John Carradine has his best starring film role as Gaston Morrell, a civilized maniac compelled to strangle the models he paints. Jean Parker is the spirited girl he admires; he attempts to get free of his crimes but cannot erase the telltale paintings that chronicle his succession of victims.
Using fog, bits of sets and a cooperative cast, Ulmer creates a convincing period picture out of almost nothing, while moving the horror film closer to a more psychologically valid assessment of murderous evil. It's one of his more artistically successful efforts.
Allday's extras include a featurette about the Barlow and Baker marionettes that star as Morrell's puppet actors. Some striking Kodachrome movies of the marionettes in action are included that show that Bluebeard could have looked terrific as a color movie.
Strange Illusion is an awkward but artistically adventurous contemporary mystery lifted almost entirely from Hamlet. Jimmy Lydon is discouraged from investigating his father's death and is suspicious of the new man in his mother's life; he eventually becomes the victim of a conspiracy and is committed to an asylum. Weird dream sequences work their way through this Ulmer fan favorite. This disc comes with several Ulmer trailers including the elusive Beyond the Time Barrier, an MGM title for which 35mm printing elements are currently missing.
Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a late-50s Allied Artists film made on the cheap in Los Angeles but set on a foggy moor. Gloria Talbott is afraid to marry John Agar afer being advised that she may have inherited her father's curse of lycanthropy. Several slow-motion dream sequences later, Gloria finds out she's being set up by a relative, the true guilty party.
Known almost exclusively as a joke title in Andrew Sarris' auteurist book The American Film, this tame monster romp does wonders with minimal sets but flubs a key interior when 1957 auto traffic peeks through the blinds during a breakfast scene. Of all the pictures in the collection, this is the sloppiest.
This disc has an interview with Ulmer's Daughter Arrianné explaining her non-profit foundation to preserve her father's films, many of which have fallen into the limbo of unresolved legal rights. She apparently recovered the original elements for Daughter of Dr. Jekyll at the last possible moment, by asking the original producer to reassign her the rights only a few weeks before he died.
The final title in the disc, not in chronological order, is 1946's The Strange Woman, a mini-masterpiece done on a reasonable budget that almost raised Edgar Ulmer out of poverty row. Instead, its success made him impatient with his deal at Producer's Releasing Corporation and he left to do even wilder independent projects in Europe.
The movie is an intelligent drama about a headstrong woman who eventually falls victim to her own negative karma. Hedy Lamarr plays the ambitious Jenny and the story is set in Maine in the early 1800s when land swindles were cornering the lumber market. The daughter of the town drunk, Jenny uses her beauty to maneuver herself into a marriage with the richest man in town and then has trouble getting his handsome son (Louis Hayward) to do the old man in. The irony builds as Jenny establishes a reputation of charity and personal integrity - only she knows what a fraud she is. When jealousy over the handsome George Sanders comes into the picture, her conscience gets the better of her.
This Ulmer film has no need of excuses or explanations; it's just plain superior and is easily Lamarr's best vehicle. The Ill-fated Jenny is as complicated as Scarlett O'Hara (whom Lamarr resembles in the role) and much more believable than Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven.
To top it off, David Kalat provides one of his highly entertaining commentaries, packed with fact, analysis and intelligent conclusions about Ulmer, Lamarr and the entire moviemaking process. It's a great listen.
The quality of Ulmer DVDs is always an issue as few decent prints of the movies survive. Many PRC pictures now lack anything but worn 16mm television negatives, and Ulmer's entire 40s output exists in spotty condition. Happily, The Strange Woman has been improved with new elements from French archives. Allday's encoding and digitizing improved over the years but some of the transfers are not as good looking as they might be. Dr. Jekyll and Strange Illusion suffer from strange pincushion graininess in their frequent dark foggy scenes.
Still, the Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive three-disc collection is a bargain and a great introduction to Ulmer's prodigious output. With extras included it adds up to over six hours of entertainment.
For more information about Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive, visit Image Entertainment. To order Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive on DVD
Features John Carradine's own favorite performance.
In an interview published in a modern source, director Edgar G. Ulmer claimed that Eugen Schufftan, who was credited onscreen as production designer, actually served as director of photography on this film. According to Ulmer, Schufftan could not be credited as cinematographer because he was not a member of the union, and consequently, Jockey Feindel, who worked as camera operator, was credited onscreen as director of photography. Ulmer's claim is substantiated by Schufftan's biography. During the 1920's and 1930's, Schufftan was an acclaimed cinematographer in Germany and France and developed a special optical shot, the "Schufftan Process." When he emigrated to the United States in 1940, however, he was credited as technical director or technical supervisor until the 1948 film Women in the Night (see below). According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Ulmer worked as production designer on Bluebeard .
Although a December 1943 news item noted that Ray Schrock and Martin Mooney were to produce this picture as their first team effort for PRC, the extent of Schrock's contribution to the released film has not been determined. Another Hollywood Reporter news item claimed that Mooney was considering Marie McDonald for a role in the film. Other Hollywood Reporter news items add George Irving, Maxwell Hayes and Mabel Forrest to the cast, but their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. According to an April 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item, Mooney had to win title clearance from Charles Chaplin, who owned the rights to the title Bluebeard. In 1946, Chapin made Monsieur Verdoux (see below), a film inspired by Henri-Desire Landru, the real-life French Bluebeard. Unlike Chaplin's film, however, this picture was not based on the life of Landru.
Released in United States Fall November 11, 1944
Released in United States Fall November 11, 1944