Thursday, February 20, 2014

BLUEBEARD 1972

When it comes to the preserved documentation of talent squandered and the irrefutable evidence of an artist in decline, few actors have as nagging a filmography as Richard Burton. And boy did he know it.

Indeed, it’s on the occasion of my having just finished reading (more like devouring) The Richard Burton Diaries – where he frequently rebukes the tiresome (to him) “myth” that his career is one of unrealized potential incarnate – that I was inspired to revisit this cult film curio from the “anything goes” 70s. Cult film, in this instance, being the term applied to any movie of dubious merit for which one harbors an affection that defies logical explanation.

In 1971, just before starting work on Bluebeard, Richard Burton wrote: “My lack of interest in my own career - past, present, or future - is almost total. All my life I think I have been secretly ashamed of being an actor. And the older I get, the more ashamed I get.” 
Well, that explains a lot. 
In fact, combined with the obvious allure of travel (the film was shot in Budapest, Hungary, a place the globe-trotting Burton's had never been) and a hefty paycheck, only apathy, self-loathing, and a subconscious need to publicly humiliate oneself can be the possible explanation for Burton’s head-scratching participation in Bluebeard: A big-budget, yet awfully cheap-looking, black comedy/horror movie that by rights should have been a throwaway exploitationer from Hammer Films starring Christopher Lee or Vincent Price (whom Burton wrote of purposely hoping to emulate in the role: “It has to be done with immense tongue in cheek. I will try to remember how the master –whasssisname – Vincent Price plays it.”).

Compared to the depths of degradation he was yet to fall into with The Klansman (1974), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1976), and The Medusa Touch (1977), Bluebeard actually represents something of  late-career high-point for Burton, signifying as it does a movie that, at least partially, intends to be laughed at.
Richard Burton as Baron Kurt Von Sepper
Joey Heatherton as Anne
Basically a Playboy magazine pictorial disguised as a film, Bluebeard is a tongue-in-cheek, post-WWI retelling of the 17th-century French folktale about a nobleman with a history of murdering his wives. Richard Burton plays Austrian (I think) war hero and famed fighter pilot Kurt Von Sepper, who hastily falls for and marries Anne, a spunky American cabaret performer assayed (emphasis on the first syllable, if you get my cruder meaning) by 70s variety show stalwart, Serta mattress pitchwoman, and erstwhile Bob Hope USO Tour frug-er, Joey Heatherton. True to the very grim original fairy tale, the Baron’s bride soon comes to learn of the gruesome deaths of her six predecessors (and a prostitute, for good measure) at the hands of her literally blue-bearded husband, and over the course of one very tense evening, is forced to rely on her wits(!) and assorted Scheherazadian ploys to avoid meeting a similar fate.
As movie set-ups go, this one isn't half bad. It's only in the execution (if you'll pardon the pun) where things start to go awry. The theme of the young wife suspecting her hubby of harboring a deep dark secret has been used effectively in movies for ages: in The Stranger (1946) a slow-on-the-pickup Loretta Young discovers she's wed a Nazi (you'd think a little thing like that would have come up during courtship); teen bride Elizabeth Taylor learns much-too-old-for-her Robert Taylor is a Soviet spy in Conspirator (1949); the thriller Julie (1956) finds Doris Day wed to man who may or may not have killed her first husband (how inconvenient!); and Hitchcock requires Joan Fontaine to sleep with one eye open in both Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941).

In this French/Italian/German production designed to showcase and undress its cast of international beauties, Miss Heatherton's unequivocal American-ness works rather well. Both as contrast (she has a delectably dissolute quality that makes her look like a debauched Sandra Dee) and in rendering her character believable as the one wife meddlesome enough to go snooping where she doesn't belong.
Richard Burton summed it up nicely: "Heatherton seems unbelievably ordinary, which might be good for the part. She has one of those one-on-every-corner, blonde, rather common, and at the drop of an insult I'm sure, rather bitchy faces."
Raquel Welch as Magdalena, the nymphomaniacal nun. Wife #4
Of course, top-billed Raquel Welch is also an American (total screen time: 8 minutes), but as Myra Breckinridge established, when Welch tries to be funny, she becomes so mannered and stilted that she barely even registers as human.

The device of having Heatherton forestall her execution by getting her homicidal husband to recount to her the whys and wherefores of each of his wives' deaths is a good one; for its fairy-tale framework is perfectly in keeping with Bluebeard's archly gothic tone, while the extensive use of lengthy flashbacks gives Bluebeard the feel of one of those tongue-in-cheek horror anthology movies popularized by Britain's Amicus Productions in the 70s (The House That Dripped Blood, Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, et al.).
Thus, with a solid horror film structure firmly in place and a script that asserts its dark/self-mocking humor at regular intervals, one would think that Bluebeard, in laying its "exploitation film" cards on the table, could effortlessly meet the  low bar requirements it set for itself. Not so.
Karin Schubert as Greta, the patient virgin. Wife #1
The impression one is left with from the film's wandering pacing and unfocused tone is that the filmmakers just don't have their hearts in the horror side of things. Blacklisted veteran director Edward Dmytryk, who clearly has seen better days (Murder My SweetRaintree County, The Caine Mutiny), has produced impressive work in many genres over the years, but demonstrates little of that flair here.
He has trouble arriving at and sustaining a consistent rhythm, the overlong Bluebeard frequently showing the strain of having to keep its featherweight premise aloft for its hefty two-plus-hours running time; he tends to undercut suspense (since we usually know right away what fault Bluebeard will find in his wives, the drawn out scenes of his slowly reaching the end of his rope feel like overlong setups for jokes we already know the punchline to); and he out and out flubs even the most cliche tropes of the genre (a shock reveal of a character thought to be out of the vicinity is botched entirely by having the camera placed practically across the room from the action). Equally problematic: it's hard to be induced to laugh at the exaggerated, purple performances Dmytryk elicits from his cast when one is not entirely sure: 1) They're in on the joke, 2) Capable of better.
Nathalie Delon (l.) as Erika, the latent lesbian babytalker. Wife #3
With her, Sybil Danning (r.) as a helpful prostitute
No, if Bluebeard can be accused of anything, it is of appearing to so aggressively court the lucrative softcore euro-sleaze exploitation market, that it treats every scene that doesn't actively involve the gratuitous disrobing, display, or objectification of a pulchritudinous actress as necessary, but unwanted, filler.
Virna Lisi as Elga, the atonal songbird. Wife #2
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
It’s a strange thing indeed to find oneself drawn to a film specifically because of the disaster potential inherent in the collective interaction of its assembled particulars. I submit for your approval: A once-respected, bomb-prone, alcoholic Shakespearean actor not known for either his dramatic restraint or light touch with comedy; a legendarily "difficult," not excessively talented, reigning global sex goddess trying hard to hold onto the title after a string of notable flops; a pouty American perpetual motion machine and heir to the sex-kitten throne after Ann-Margret abdicated with Carnal Knowledge; a bevy of international actresses of varying degrees of stateside recognizability (translated: the more obscure the actress, the more extensive the nudity); a director in his 60s taking a whack (pun again?) at trendy 70s permissiveness; all converging in a genre of film – a tongue in cheek black comedy gothic horror movie – alien to everyone involved.
Marilu Tolo as Brigitt, the masochistic feminist. Wife #5
Marveling at the myriad ways in which these discordant ingredients interact in Bluebeard is like watching one of those chemical reaction science demonstrations from when I was a kid. And it's just as much fun. There's the full-tilt sensory bombardment of having Richard Burton and Joey Heatherton "acting" together in the same scenes (so ill-matched they are actually MARVELOUS together). The visual clash of garish 70s art direction (one set looks like a furnished blood clot). And let's not forget the aural assault of the hollow, dubbed voices for many of the actresses, brushing up against Burton's free-flowing Austrian or Welsh or English accent, all buttressed unsteadily by Heatherton's flat, matter-of-fact,Yankee delivery on one side, and Welch's mechanical, mid-Atlantic elocution lesson whisper on the other. 
Agostina Belli as Caroline, the dispassionate free spirit. Wife # 6
The product of three screenwriters and no telling how many other “collaborators” (time and place is so inconsistent and poorly evoked in the costumes and makeup, each of Bluebeard’s wives appear to be a time traveler visiting from a different era...past and future), so many disparate ingredients are thrown into this Euro-sleaze potboiler that its working title could rightfully have been: Hungarian Goulash.
Audiences were puzzled by the insignia and flag used in Bluebeard. Although many thought it was a made-up substitute for a swastika, it is in fact a real-life crutch-cross (cross potent) symbol representing the Fatherland Front. An Austrian, anti-Nazi conservative group headed by Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in 1933

PERFORMANCES
Although the lovely Nathalie Delon gives what I think is Bluebeard's best performance (she was the only wife I was sorry to see go), and the stunning Virna Lisi the most beautiful (that she allows her beauty to be camouflaged by costuming and makeup designed to emphasize the ridiculousness of her character, perhaps speaks well of the actress' lack of ego and sense of humor); I have to say that I am thoroughly charmed by Joey Heatherton in this and she is my absolute favorite performer in the film.
Dream Project Never to Be:
A film of Chekhov's Three Sisters starring Joey Heatherton, Tuesday Weld, and Connie Stevens
With that perpetually open mouthed, sex-haze look she falls back on whenever she finds herself at a loss for character motivation, Heatherton can be downright dreadful at times. But she also possesses that intangible, alchemic "something" that transforms bad acting, mediocre dancing, and a narcissistic self-absorption, into a special kind of camp, star quality.
Looking amazing and photographed the most flatteringly she's ever been in a film (she first worked with Bluebeard director Edward Dmytryk in 1964s Where Love Has Gone) and dressed in a collection of anachronistic frocks better suited to one of her Hullabaloo TV appearances, Heatherton nevertheless reveals a comic talent for the sarcastic throwaway line, imbues the sometimes sluggish film with a considerable amount of misdirected, giggle-inducing energy, and ultimately emerges the real star of Bluebeard. Oh, and did I mention she goes topless?
As Bluebeard, the man who invented your-fault divorce, Richard Burton is certainly game, and sometimes even appears to be enjoying hamming it up, but it's hard to laugh at an actor of his stature actually trying to emulate Vincent Price (who is the master of this sort of thing, but it IS this sort of thing). His Bluebeard doesn't really have any madness at his core. In fact, in too many scenes Burton appears to be either drunk, distracted, or bored...take your pick.
Edward Meeks as Sergio, Anne's unlikely partner in her cabaret act 

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Contemporary horror fans discovering Bluebeard are likely to find both the nudity and gore of this R-rated film to be well below even PG standards. But as for me, not having been weaned on Saw or whatever brand of torture porn passes for horror these days, I don't mind a bit that, outside of a pretty unwatchable hunting scene, the violence in Bluebeard is pretty bloodless.
Mathieu Carriere as the mysterious character known only as The Violinist
Where Bluebeard works best for me is in creating a suitably bizarre gothic atmosphere (silly and fun, but creepy) and in building suspense around how long it's going to take Heatherton to catch on to Bluebeard's "secret," and how she's is going to escape that castle before dawn (certainly not for lack of velocity. When Heatherton runs, flowing gown or not, the woman seriously floors it).
 "Oh, I love the castle! I love the park. The woods. These curtains. These walls. The furniture. I even like these strange photographs!"  Joey Heatherton, folks

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
When Bluebeard was first released, both Burton and Dmytryk went out of their way informing/warning everyone that the film was intended solely as a lark and a laugh (as if anyone seeing a movie titled Bluebeard [starring an actor wearing a literal blue beard] could mistake it for anything else). When critics and audiences failed to find much comedy, black or otherwise, in the sadism of the violence directed toward women; little humor in the grim choice of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi fascism as a backstory plot point; and sat stone-faced at images of real-life animal slaughter in the hunting scene, their complaints were summarily dismissed as being born of taking it all too seriously, missing the point, and failing to understand that the movie was…here we go again…a  black comedy designed as escapist entertainment.
Von Sepper gets it in die nĂ¼sse 
A great many cult films, especially those poking fun at taboo/serious topics like murder and death, can come off as offensive. Of course, if it's a film by John Waters, Paul Morrissey, or David Lynch, causing offense is likely the whole point. But sometimes a film can cross a line for a viewer, and, so long as that individual doesn't try to censor a film or stop others from enjoying it, I think differing opinion should be respected without that person being told they are taking things too seriously or missing a film's point.
Researching Bluebeard online, I read many reviews citing the above reasons for not enjoying the film. And, this being the internet, those observations were met with caustic rejoinders citing said reviewer's inability to grasp that it was a horror comedy and therefore not to be taken seriously.
Anne attempts to distract Von Sepper with a delicious dessert
I have a tendency to roll my eyes - with a vengeance - any time I hear a filmmaker or fan launch into that overworked stock phrase, “It’s pure escapism, it’s meant to be entertaining,” when deflecting criticism directed at a film, or defending (I assume) our inalienable right to willful mindlessness.
That’s all very well, and to each his own. 

But if being a student of film has taught me anything, it’s that, historically speaking, pop culture’s so-called “mindless entertainments” – in the unguarded license they afford themselves – generally reveal far more about who we really are as people, than serious, contemplative films which tend to flatter us with images of how we like to think of ourselves.
Many considered a violent scene depicting Burton's character spearheading a fascist pogrom against Austrian Jews to be out of place (or at least poor taste) in a film Dymytrk described a being "Made purely for entertainment"
As comedian Ricky Gervais said (Oh God, I'm quoting Ricky Gervais...and using the word God in the bargain): "Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're right." And on the topic of reacting to potentially incendiary films, maybe I should add to that: Just because you take no offense doesn't mean you have a more profound understanding. No movie worth its salt doesn't divide audiences.

I think that Bluebeard is a great deal of gaudy, campy fun. A real "only in the 70s" oddity that is definitely worth a look. But that doesn't mean I'm unaware of its very real potential to offend. It's a dated relic of a time when male-centric Hollywood sought to counter the the cultural one-two punch of Women's Lib and the sexual revolution with movies that many perceived to be troublingly anti-woman (Roger Vadim's Pretty Maids All in a Row [1971] being the worst offender).

So, if you're inspired by this post to give Bluebeard a look, please proceed with caution. 
And be very, very afraid...


BONUS MATERIAL:
See Joey Do Her Thing!
A mouth-watering collection of fantabulous Joey Heatherton variety show clips from the 60s and 70s await you at The Redundant Variety Hour. Get ready to be transported to The Land of 1000 Dances! You can thank me later.

Joey's Best Performance Ever!
In 1986 Heatherton was acquitted on charges of having assaulted a passport office official.  Heatherton should consider the verdict her unofficial Oscar for the absolutely incredible impersonation she does of her accuser. Had she given her film roles this much gusto, she'd have been a major movie star! Watch the YouTube clip HERE

Copyright © Ken Anderson

30 comments:

  1. Wow, thats quite an analysis of this long unseen Trash Classic, here's what I wrote about it a year or two ago:
    http://osullivan60.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/movie-misfires.html

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    1. Hi Michael
      Looks like we share similar head-scratching regarding Richard Burton's participation in this film. For all his protesting about the press perceiving him as selling out his talent, he didn't help matters by being so apathetic about the vehicles he chose. And you got the chance to see Liz and Dick onstage in 1970? That's enviable even if they DID spend the time grousing about their careers!

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  2. Argyle, here. Haven't seen this, maybe vaguely remember when it came out. We had a very gory illustrated children's book (?!) version of the story that I loved - maybe Aubrey Beardsley illustrations? Love your delicate parsing of what sounds like a minefield of a movie. (Maybe Captain Von Trapp was a member of the Fatherland Front?) The hunting scene really sounds problematic. Interesting how time and standards change. Have always been fascinated by Joey Heatherton - not sure they make them like that any more. And can totally imagine that she and Burton mix unexpectedly well. I haven't read his diaries, but I'm thrilled that he was apparently able to have a sense of humor about projects and his own worth. Reading some things recently about Peter O'toole left me grateful for the same impression. So many actor's careers today are so overdetermined and precious. I used to really like Daniel Day-Lewis (and I'm sure I'll continue to go see him) but having just made myself sit through "Lincoln" I'd say he could use a little leavening career-wise before he gets too old and completely calcified. As award season leaks out, you just want these people to get off their high horses (Clooney, Hanks, Pitt, Streep, bleh) and have a little messy fun - probably incapable. Or for people to stop worshiping these creaky prestige movies. Anyway, your screen caps are gorgeous! Thanks!

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    1. Hi Argyle!
      This movie will no doubt stir up memories of your illustrated children's book, for it cleaves closely to the fable. And although Bluebeard is peppered with all manner of questionable choices, the thing most people are likely to find offensive is the acting.

      As I am now reading a book comprised of the letters of Dirk Bogarde (he's a favorite) I have to agree with you about the level of self-aware humor these actors display. Although both are brilliant actors, and take their work seriously, they most importantly didn't take themselves too seriously and these both are refreshing reads.
      I had the displeasure of seeing Matthew McConaughey on a talk show recently and, apparently forgetting that just a few short years ago his name was a punchline for jokes about nude, bongo-playing rom-com hacks, he is now an insufferably self-serious artiste (aka: bore).

      maybe it has to do with the money. Burton suffered major guilt for making tons of money for something he thought was silly, maybe stars now have to puff themselves up to feel ok about making obscene amounts of money for doing something they might...deep in their heart of hearts...think is pretty silly, too.
      Closing points: your question about Mr. Von Trapp is intriguing, and no, they don't make em like Joey Heatherton.
      To the blank stares of students in my dance class, a running gag has been for me to cry out when they are having trouble with a routine: "Where are our future Joey Heathertons?"

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    2. "Self-serious artiste?" Kind of sounds like Jessica Chastain! (But she is a little doll, so I keep watching her!)

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    3. Ha! I've never seen Chastain when she was talking about herself or her "craft", but I'm willing to believe the "self-serious artiste" label could be applied to a great many relatively new stars (a many of whom are, it must be said, talented...but a little humor about oneself is always so appealing).

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  3. This movie looks like so much fun, but as you've noted, I've read that this was a very dark time in Burton's life. He and Elizabeth were at the height of their codependence, together 24/7...she accompanied him to the set every day to make sure he didn't diddle his glamorous costars, which he was always wont to do, and enabled his out-of-control drinking.

    From what I can gather about what I've read and seen - most recently in the wonderful American Masters biography on PBS, Burton was one of the most insecure people in an already insecure profession. He hated his looks and particularly his bad skin, was unsure of his masculinity, he feared he was not nearly as talented as those he was often compared to, most notably Olivier. Each time he was nominated for an Oscar and did not win, he'd fall into a deep depression (his wife had won two). No wonder he drank. It was the only way he could escape the demons of self-doubt.

    And yet, he's so wonderful on the screen, and by all accounts was brilliant on the stage. As adept at comedy as tragedy, Shakespeare or Albee, soap opera or sword-and-sandal epic. Yes, Exorcist II The Heretic is a terrible film, but I could just listen to Burton talk for hours...that vocal intonation was pure magic, could turn a recitation of the phone book into poetry...

    My favorite Burton performance, other than Virginia Woolf, is in Equus--a crowning achievement near the end of his career. But I look forward to seeing him in this bawdy sex romp.

    Joey Heatherton was indeed gorgeous and talented, but she never quite made it on the big screen...I wonder why...

    Great post, as usual, Mr. Anderson! You've whet my cinematic appetite once again!!

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    1. Hi Chris!
      Yes indeed this movie was a hotbed of darkness for Mr. Burton! As you probably know (but I'll mention since I wanted to in my post but couldn't find where it fit) Burton's drinking was at an all-time high; his beloved elder brother passed away during the making of the film and sent him into an already deeper depression than usual; and it is suspected (insinuated by the editor of his diaries and the biogrpahy "Furious Love," but verbally corroborated by Sybill Danning and Raquel Welch in interviews) that (no less) that Burton instigated the first major rift in his marriage to Liz by having an affair with Nathalie Delon and perhaps others.
      Amusingly, in his Dairies Burton suspects Heaterton of carrying on an affair with 60-something Dmytryk, saying ""However else did she get the part? I mean, whoever heard of her?"

      Anyhow, it sounded like a troubled set what with Welch being her usual temperamental self, Heatherton throwing tantrums, and Burton retreating to the bottle.

      As you say, he really had no cause for the insecurity that plagued him. I think he could be a lazy actor, but when he was good he was excellent. I like him in "Woolf", "Equus" and "Night of the Iguana", but perhaps not much else beyond this, where I find him amusing when he''s not obviously pickled.

      And gorgeous Joey Heatherton...i remember she made this film on the heels of that nasty divorce from her flasher husband. Her picture was all over "Rona Barrett's Hollywood." She seemed popular enough, but after this film you mostly just heard about her personal struggles with drugs and an eating disorder. She's certainly one of a kind.
      I love hearing from you and I am long overdue to stop by your blog. to read about one of my all time fave films, "The Heiress"...I've seen that film more times than I can count.
      Thank you, Chris, for always reading these posts, and especially for the contribution of your knowledgeable comments! . Hope you check this one out sometime, I think you'd like it!

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    2. I have been reading The Burton Diaries, too.
      It was a shame that Burton was unhappy with his career, since Elizabeth put his career before hers, not that Taylor was that career-oriented (like Davis or Hepburn). I always thought Liz got a bum rap for Burton's "selling out." When you have the world's most famous woman following YOU around, and your marriage to HER upped your salary and choice of roles... and you choose any crap that suits your salary needs or tax purposes... Let's just say I don't have a lot of sympathy for Burton...he could have done anything he wanted: act, write, direct, or go back to the stage... Burton dabbled at all, was brilliant...but was easily bored. And turned to the bottle...

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    3. I agree. Burton references in this book that fact that Taylor saw herself as luckier than many of her career-oriented peers at MGM because succeed or fail, she could always perceive a life for herself beyond the camera's glare. He seemed to both admire and envy this quality in her a great deal.
      Burton seemed to me to be a man of almost limitless potential, but unwilling (unable) to challenge any of his brilliance in any one area without being bored.
      The through-line of much of his diaries is a kind of self-loathing born of being to lazy/apathetic to find anything satisfying to do with his prodigious gifts. I think you sum his situation up perfectly.
      (Can't believe he said yes to THIS and no to The Little Prince. His movie radar was a bit bent).

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    4. In a way, lucky for us Liz was able to see life beyond her latest picture: ET became the voice for AIDS fundraising and activism for the last 25 years of her life...

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  4. I love cult films as much as any other but this film is one I've never longed to see, for many of the reasons you write about in your review. It seemed to me such a sad film what with Richard Burton taking any role at the time and all those over the hill starlets. I saw Burton in The Medusa Touch and it was unbearable to see him bloated from alcohol, hardly acting and not enjoying his part.

    A film showing different ways of murdering women just did not seem much fun at all and the early seventies wasn't a great time for fashion, in my opinion. But it was a great age for strange films that could never be made today. Thank you for explaining the good aspects of this curious film. It is clearly because of Joey Heatherton I should watch this! As you write, she and Burton seem so mismatched but now I understand that that is something GOOD!
    -Wille

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    1. Hi Wille!
      In all that you wrote in your comment, I think you pinpointed exactly the public's attitude toward "Bluebeard", and what has always been its problem from the start (for bad acting has never stopped a film from becoming a success).
      This was years before the slasher film became a popular genre, and so a film "showing different ways of murdering women" was hardly giggle worthy stuff. They might have been able to pull it off had the censorship restraints of the early 60s been in place, the murders being suggested...not shown. But the graphic nature of the deaths coupled with the sexualizing of each of the actresses sets up that weird thing I still sex=death thing I still never quite undertsnd in certain types of horror.
      (it's troubling to read IMDB comments from people complaining that the beautiful women aren't naked enough, nor are their deaths violent enough...that's entertainment?).
      And Burton's participation is another thing. Talented actors slumming can be funny if the film is sharp (Meryl Streep in Death Becomes Her) or sad when it's just a film well beneath them (Meryl Streep in She-Devil).

      But, the oddity that is "Bluebeard" couldn't have been be made at any other time, and its 70s sensibilities fairly ooze off the screen. And outside of those YouTube clips, it's the best Joey Heatherton showcase around.
      Definitely worth a look, in my opinion, but you're not missing an undiscovered "classic" should you decide to give this Playboy pictorial a pass. Better to remember Burton in his prime.

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  5. Finally saw this movie last year -- watched it with a friend, we drank heavily -- and it's just the sort of bad movie I love! It works (or doesn't work) on so many different levels!

    Thanks for the Redundant shout-out. We LOVE Miss Heatherton!

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    1. Hi Thom
      I know what you mean. I introduced my partner to it a few years back, and we both enjoyed the ways it seems to come together in one scene, then totally seem to lose its way in another.
      I have to say I enjoyed it a great deal more than he did, but we both came to the conclusion that that was more likely due to my fascination with Joey Heatherton's Ann-Margret qualities (who, I found out from that Richard Burton Diaries book, actually expressed interest in the Heatherton role back when the film was courting bigger name stars like Ursula Andress).
      And thank YOU for preserving Ms. Heatherton's frug legacy. It's cultural significance can't be overstated. Thanks for the comment, Thom!

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  6. Is it any surprise that I have this DVD in my movie collection? Does anybody want to take a guess why? (Hint: her initials are RW).

    One thing that struck me about this film was that the character played by Raquel Welch was the only one of the ex-wives who didn't actually "die" on camera. As the biggest female star in the film, that's hardly surprising, and it couldn't possibly be just mere coincidence. And even though Miss Welch only spends eight minutes in this movie, she does the play the role of a wayward nun--I don't think I need to explain this any further.

    Also, thanks for the information about the logo worn by Richard Burton--I too, figured it was a substitute for a swastika.

    I'm glad you mentioned the hunting scene, Ken: some of the most distasteful imagery I'm endured in a motion picture. Perhaps Edward Dmytryk fancied that sort of stuff, I don't. The film would've been much more enjoyable without it. To reiterate your earlier advice, I would recommended any potential viewers to approach this film with extreme caution.

    PS: Question: do you think (or know for certain) that Marilu Tolo was hired for her uncanny resemblance to Liz Taylor? (this question has been asked elsewhere). What a beauty! I recall really liking her character when I saw the film--so fiery, so amazing to behold--but of course, leave it to Richard Burton to flog the proud women's rights activist into submission and reveal the whimpering masochist within!

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    1. Hey Mark
      I forgot about your fondness for the beauteous Raquel Welch. You must have got a kick out of what was a very amusing conceit (a nun who looks like Raquel Welch).
      I think the film handles rather well, the sight gag of her clothing becoming more revealing the more she discloses information about her checkered past.
      And as for the hunting sequence, I’m no fan of censorship and only say this from emotion, but much in the way Mickey Rooney's horrible Mr. Yunioshi character ruins "Breakfast at Tiffany's" for me and I wish someone could find a way to excise it; the same applies to the hunting scenes in "Bluebeard". I really wish those scenes were cut. As you say, they really spoil the silly fun of the film.
      And that's marvelous that you mention Marilu Tolo's resemblance to Elizabeth Taylor (which many critics remarked upon back in the 70s). She is certainly a stunning beauty worthy of a Fellini film. I have no idea whether her similar looks factored into her casting, but intentional or not, it's hard not to watch the tempestuous scenes between Tolo and Burton and not think of the legendarily combative relationship Burton and Taylor shared.
      A curious side-note gleaned from that Richard Burton book: Elizabeth Taylor turned 40 during the making of "Bluebeard" and threw a lavish, highly-publicized party. Out of jealousy, Taylor uninvited all of Burton's co-stars from "Bluebeard" with the exception of Marilu Tolo.
      Thanks for the comment, Mark!

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  7. Hi Ken,

    While I've been aware of this film, I even have a vague recollection of it playing in theatres, I've never watched it because it always seemed too too. Your review has peaked my curiousity though and now I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

    I agree with your comment about Raquel's skill at comedy, it's not her forte. Which is strange since when she appears in interviews now she's loose and quite amusing. Maybe the camera inhibited her natural ease, the same is true of Ali MacGraw. Not that I'm saying that Raquel is as bad an actress as Ali, few are, within a slender range Raquel can be quite decent. But what I've always found amazing is that when I've seen Ali MacGraw being interviewed she is funny, loose, obviously very intelligent and down to earth but the moment they turn a camera on her and give her lines to speak the woman turns into a tree, Raquel suffer from the same thing at times.

    I use to get a kick out of Joey Heatherton, so limber and agile with that wild hairdo. Now she makes me sad, saw a picture of her visiting Jane Fonda backstage a couple of years ago and it was horrifying how dissipated she looked. Jane of course looked great.

    I share your love of The Heiress. I've watched it many times and adore everyone in it. The scene between Dr. Sloper and his two sisters just before his dressing down of Morris is one of my all time favorites. Have you ever seen My Cousin Rachel with Olivia and Burton? It an interesting gothic and is one of his nominated performances as well as his first American film. They reportedly couldn't stand each other though and there is a distance between them in their scenes.

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    1. I was meant to comment on this in my previous post, so I'll take the opportunity now: I've always found Miss Welch to be quite amusing when called upon in films, but then again, you may well accuse me of bias!

      Perhaps Miss Welch should have been allowed to ad lib her lines--as you've correctly observed, Joel, Raquel does have quite the sense of humour when she is speaking in interviews and print. Any woman who notes that the elderly Mae West looked like a "dockworker in drag" definitely has some wit about her. And if you've never seen RW do her Mae West impression, you can find it online--hilarious stuff!

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    2. Hi Joel
      Both you and Mark hit upon a rather recent truth about Raquel Welch. She IS very funny, relaxed and quite a hoot when on talk shows, personal appearances, or on the amazing commentary track for "Myra Breckinridge."
      I think it's a result of mellowing with age. When she was younger she was very defensive about being taken seriously, very self-conscious, and very self-protective (the YouTube clip of her on The Dick Cavett Show, for example). But with her "superstar" years behind her she has revealed a marvelous sense of humor.
      Joel, the Ali MacGraw thing is sooo spot on! I adore her, but only think she was ever effectively funny in "Just Tell Me What You Want", but on talk shows she's everything she was never able to be in films.

      Candice Bergen and Brooke Shields have spoken about, when they were young and inexperienced, the terror they felt with so much attention being called to their beauty. They felt self-conscious and it showed on the screen. Both actresses are now more known for their comedic turns than dramatic.

      And as for Joey Heatherton, a sad case, for sure. but I'm glad she's still around. Although I probably wouldn't recommend ANYONE over the age of 25 having their picture taken next to Jane Fonda. Barbarella doesn't age!

      Haven’t seen “My Cousin Rachel” but you make it sound worth checking out. Thanks Joel!

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    3. Every time I see Britney Spears, I think of Joey Heatherton...

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    4. Ken, I meant to mention being bowled over by your idea of The Three Sisters with Joey, Connie and Tuesday. It's so fun and ludicrous an idea I chuckled as soon as I read it. Tuesday would have so outmatched the other two however it would have been a clown car tragedy in motion were it ever to have happened.

      Have you ever seen either of Connie's two big budget vehicles, Parrish or even more horrifying Susan Slade? They are two choice bits of overheated but satisfying trash.

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    5. Ha! Thanks, Joel. Well, that idea would be HEAVEN for me. And yes, Tuesday would have no peer with the other two, but just seeing those three assembled in a project would be a hoot (Years ago I harbored the fantasy that someone would have cast Barbra Streisand and comedian David Brenner as brother and sister in a film together.)

      I did see Susan Slade many years ago and remember it being a great overwrought soap. My lack of tolerance for Troy Donahue kept me away from Parrish, but I'm a big fan of "Palm Springs Weekend"!

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    6. And Rico...Joey Heatherton should make you think of being a perfect sleeper. Spears is a void. :-)

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  8. To me this movie is the 70's equivalent to Casino Royale (the better original one, of course) : incredible photography, extravagant costumes and set design, wildly veering acting styles, the most beautiful women in the world to ogle. And Burton gives a performance very similar to Sellers' in CR, from committed to completely disillusioned in one fell swoop.

    The over-the-top misogyny could be the hardest thing to swallow for me. I actually love the balls on the part of the filmmakers to inject straight-up fascism in their silly concoction, an almost non-violent horror movie at the core. The juxtaposition is really striking and sobering.

    Like CR, it overstays its welcome but the brilliance flies so high I forgive it.

    Plus all that juicy gossip (which I didn't know about but could infer from la Tolo's casting, because she was reportedly almost always hot to trot).

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    1. Hi Mangrove
      that's an interesting comparison you make to "Casino Royale." Both films are certainly very much of their time and have a color and fashion palette that is almost psychedelic.The comparison the the on/off switch performances of Sellers and Burton is most apt.
      I've never seen Marilu Tolo in anything else. I should search her out.
      Great to hear from you again, mangrove. Thanks for commenting!

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  9. I haven't seen Bluebeard, but I liked your funny and thoughtful post on it, and I agree with your point on mindless pop entertainment---it really does show us who we ARE, not what we liked to be seen as. And I can understand your expressed dismay at how Burton seemed drawn to vehicles below his talent. I did read his Diaries, they're fascinating and gripping---such an intelligent, well-read, thoughtful man, so perceptive of others and so self-critical---he seemed consumed by a half-understood self-loathing; and the feeling I was left with that he was really out of place in the superstar lifestyle that marriage to Taylor entailed, but that he enjoyed the perks too much to give it up. And then there's the reality of Hollywood and international filmmaking: that so little of it is worthy of ANYone's talent, but bills have to be paid, so take what you can (Michael Caine, for example, said that the reason he compulsively makes bad movies is that he's terrified of never being offered another one and thereby not being able to support himself). Your review of Joey Heatherton as a "special kind of camp star" does make me curious to see Bluebeard. I do treasure her in that earlier Dmytryk film, Where Love Has Gone, which is simply camp heaven (Bette Davis AND Susan Hayward, mano a mano---how can you resist?). If you haven't seen, you MUST --- and if you write a post on it, I'll be the first to read it (hint, hint!).

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    1. Hi GOM
      As it coincidentally turns out-eerily so, in fact-my partner (not having read your comment) informed me today that we have a copy of "Where Love Has Gone" arriving from Netflix !! It must be in the stars.
      I have never seen the film, but as you say, with a cast roster like that, it is certainly worth a look. And that it is a camp film you treasure makes it all the more appealing to me.
      Per your comments about Burton, your statement "He seemed consumed by a half-understood self-loathing) is the impression I was left with as well. I'm currently reading "Ever, Dirk" a collection of the correspondences of Dirk Bogarde, and the contrast between the two actors couldn't be more pronounced. Like Burton, Bogarde had grown bored with acting, but channeled his ennui into a marvelous writing career and only taking jobs he felt were challenges. Burton (whose jet-set life required considerably more "lolly" than Bogarde's) kept at it long after it failed to be of interest, and it sometimes showed.
      Bluebeard is not as depressing a waste as some of his letter films, and, as stated, it's enlivened considerably by the oil/water chemistry he shares with Heatherton. Should you check it out, I'd be curious to know if you find it to be amusing or trying. Thanks for your comment,and for your collective consciousness summoning of "Where Love Has Gone" to my door. I'm looking forward to it!

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    2. I've noticed how some great actors turned to writing after they decided to give up acting - along with Bogarde, Ruth Chatterton, Mary Astor, and Gene Hackman also became novelists and began a whole new career. You can certainly see in Burton's diaries that he was a superb writer and had an introspective, literary mindset. It's so sad that he couldn't channel his extraordinary talent into a medium such as writing, where he might have felt he had more creative control.

      How fabulous that you have Where Love Has Gone on your Netflix queue - I think you'll enjoy it!

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    3. I second a post on Where Love Has Gone once you've seen it! What a sumptuous train wreck it is!!! And with so much backstory.

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