Bluebeard's Eighth Wife
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Claudette Colbert (It Happened One Night) and Gary Cooper (Morocco) play the leads in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, a classic comedy from director Ernst Lubitsch (Broken Lullaby).
Seven-times married, the wealthy playboy Michael Brandon meets the beautiful, tempestuous Nicole, and makes her his eighth wife. Determined she won’t be just another of his conquests, Nicole contrives to frustrate Michael’s advances in order to keep him keen. Michael, however, believes she is trying to force him to divorce her in order to take advantage of a generous pre-nuptial agreement, and a battle of wills ensues.
One of Lubitsch’s greatest films, and a huge influence on the modern romantic comedy, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife boasts a sizzling screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (The Lost Weekend, Sunset Blvd.), and a memorable supporting turn from David Niven (A Matter of Life and Death).
Indicator presents Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a single-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a 2K restoration performed by Universal, taken from a scan of a 35mm nitrate finegrain print. The disc is locked to region B.
As with Indicator’s release of The Kiss Before the Mirror, Universal has done minimal restoration, simply stabilizing the image and cleaning up the easy-to-hide marks. Yet, despite that, the picture looks outstanding. Much of the presentation’s strengths seem to come down to the base scan (to my surprise, taken in 2008), which has picked up a phenomenal amount of detail and grayscale, and Indicator’s end encode renders it all as cleanly as possible. Film grain is a little heavy but looks natural and clean, and the picture is razor-sharp throughout. Black levels look solid with impressive shadow detail, and the grays blend effectively to deliver a photo-quality image.
There are still a small number of marks and scratches that pop up frequently, and flickering comes and goes, but I wouldn’t say any of it is intrusive. It’s all relatively easy to overlook—even the rear projection used throughout looks half-decent. Sure, more could be put into the digital restoration and clean-up, but I still found the image surprisingly solid.
Audio is presented in lossless PCM 1.0 monaural. It still shows its age but does manage to deliver a little more range and depth compared to the presentations for Broken Lullaby and The Kiss Before the Mirror. Music also reaches decent highs with little distortion. There is some background noise, but I don’t recall any severe issues (like pops, drops, or cracks), and it also doesn’t sound like any excessive filtering has been applied.
Indicator throws together a rather fine special edition for the film, starting the disc with a brand new audio commentary recorded by Nora Fiore. It’s a good discussion of the film, with Fiore admiring how Lubitsch handles the material and explaining how his “touch” applies here, breaking down specific shots and sequences. This even leads her to discuss some of the filmmaker’s other “subversive” 30s films. However, it can sometimes feel like she may be filling time, especially when she starts discussing cast members and their other work (Colbert and Cooper, for starters). Still, it is all thankfully more than just listing their respective work, and she can pull up other bits of trivia and information, like how the film is a remake of a silent feature, though one that is lost.
I found it interesting, but if one only has time for one significant feature, I enjoyed an archival audio interview featuring Claudette Colbert. Recorded in 1984 at the National Film Theatre, presented as an alternate audio track over the film and running 56 minutes (after that, the film returns to its original audio), it’s an exceptionally charming and funny interview with the star, Colbert talking about her earlier movies and approach to comedy (she found it best to play things straight) before getting into the sex appeal of her co-stars. This leads to a discussion about the Production Code and how she feels it hurt films of the time, though she also feels that “modern” (1984) films go way too far regarding sex and nudity. She also goes into regrets she has, whether it be a film she appeared in (she mentions Texas Lady specifically) or a role she missed out on or passed (she was up for All About Eve, but an injury prevented her). It’s a wonderful conversation and probably the highlight of the disc.
Following that are the film’s trailer and a gallery featuring around 44 or so images consisting of production photos (one colorized), lobby cards, posters, and what looks to be the cover of a trade magazine (maybe) called “Paramount Service” spotlighting the film. On top of that, Indicator also includes the 45-minute wartime English military training film United States, which loosely ties to the main feature solely because David Niven narrates.
It’s a fascinating propaganda piece made to rid British soldiers of the stereotypical views they may hold of their American allies. It starts (rather clunkily) in a pub where an American soldier overhears several British soldiers badmouthing Americans and their country, stating it's a crime-riddled hellhole with everyone shooting at each other. This then leads to what almost amounts to a travelogue as Niven's narrator tours through the U.S. and explains the wide range of things it has to offer, from the differing communities, whether in a big city or a rural area, to its political system. It, of course, does paint everything a little too rosy, but that’s to be expected. It's an impressive find on Indicator’s part.
As expected, the release comes with one of their typically superb booklets. Things start with an essay by Pamela Hutchinson (appropriately titled "Subtlety With a Sledgehammer In It") followed by excerpts from articles of the period covering the film: Cooper and Colbert talking about the movie from the newspaper Cicero Life, a production report from the Albertan newspaper, and then a collection of material from various outlets featuring Lubitsch. Fiore's commentary mentions the original silent version of the film starring Gloria Swanson (which is lost), and Hutchinson provides a wonderfully researched article here about the film (mostly from reviews) and Swanson's possible distaste for it due to events in her life around that time. The booklet then features excerpts from reviews of the film (from The Monthly Film Bulletin, The Observer, and The New York Times) and finally an essay by Fiona Kelly around the included short, United States, comparing it to a similar film made for America soldiers about Britain called Know Your Ally. As usual, their booklet is jampacked with material and covers the film (and other content on the disc) as thoroughly as one could expect.
Not bursting at the seams, but it's still a good set of material.
It's a minor release for one of Lubitsch's more overlooked films, but Indicator still gives the same care they always do.