Once upon a time, there was a movie. That movie was called Bluebeard and it starred Richard Burton. And I just had to watch it.
What did I get myself into?
Bluebeard was made in 1972; those who know 1970s Richard Burton should know that this is not a good sign. It was directed by Edward Dmytryk, who made a number of excellent films in his career: The Caine Mutiny, Murder, My Sweet, The End of the Affair, and The Young Lions. OK then.
Bluebeard features Burton as Kurt Von Sepper, a Baron, World War I vet and ridiculously rich man (with a blue beard that is never quite adequately explained) who cycles through wives. It’s not touched upon why no one questions the fact that Sepper’s wives and mistresses keep dying violent deaths, but whatever. He’s a Baron and stuff. He’s also a Nazi, this being set in pre-War Germany, and at one point orders (or commands?) the burning of a Jewish ghetto. That will come back to haunt him in the form of a young violinist who otherwise serves no purpose in the narrative.
What is important is Sepper’s latest wife, the lovely American Anne (Joey Heatherton), who falls for him because he’s a much better actor than she is. Their scenes together are roughly equivalent to watching Richard Burton try to act with a stick of plywood, which is interesting in itself. Anne comes to live at Sepper’s awesome castle, where she’s given the run of the show…except she cannot go into that room with that one large golden key that he gives her. What does Anne do? What the hell do you think she does? She uses the key and finds all his dead wives in a freezer.
This naturally provokes a little tiff between Sepper and his new bride. Rather than arming herself with a poker and braining the guy as he comes in through the door, Anne decides to have dinner with him. He informs her that he has to kill her, even though he’d really rather not, because she saw his wife-cicles. In a display of cunning that until now I never would have given her credit for, Anne convinces him to tell her the whole story before he murders her, so that he can unburden his soul and maybe discover why he constantly needs to off beautiful women. So Sepper obliges.
Up until this point, Bluebeard has played at least semi-seriously – and that was its major problem. It’s like a Hammer film without the humor, or the camp, despite having Richard Burton with a prosthetic beard and a terrible German accent. Now, however, the film really gets going, and those who stuck with it this far are about to rewarded with a number of WTF moments.
There’s the wife who won’t stop singing, so Sepper cuts off her head. There’s Raquel Welch as a promiscuous nun, obsessed with recounting every single one of her sexual escapades, then wanting to have sex in a coffin. There’s a crazed suffragette who’s into S&M. There’s a girl who goes to a prostitute to learn how to please a man and winds up in a lesbian encounter. There are also a LOT of breasts. I think that Raquel Welch is the only one who does not show her breasts at least once, and that’s probably because she’s the biggest name in the film besides Burton. The entire time, Burton looks slightly befuddled, as though he’s not quite certain what’s happening or how he got here.
Basically, Bluebeard is a disaster, but it’s an epic one. Scenes are quite obviously cut, with sudden costume changes; plot holes could fit a coach and four. Burton is remarkably game for the whole thing, trying to put some soul into his part as a supremely unsympathetic antagonist, but Heatherton has as much acting ability as most of the ornate furniture. It’s a bright, gaudy, violent and sexually charged disaster of spectacular proportions.
I honestly wish I could recommend Bluebeard on the grounds that it’s hilarious, but I really can’t. It’s far too terrible to be good, despite some truly fascinating moments of madness. If you must watch it, catch select scenes on Youtube.
Never mind Liz Taylor, this was the film that made Richard Burton an alcoholic. It nearly made me one.