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Film / Bluebeard (1972)

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Bluebeard is a 1972 thriller comedy-drama film directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Richard Burton in the title role, with a supporting cast that includes Joey Heatherton, Raquel Welch, Virna Lisi, Nathalie Delon, Marilu Tolo, Karin Schubert, Sybil Danning, and Jean Lefebvre. Its basic premise comes from the French folktale of the same name, but with noticeable alterations.

In 1930s Austria, Baron Kurt von Sepper (Burton) is a former World War I fighter pilot with a reputation as a "ladykiller" and an unnaturally blue-tinged beard that gives him the sobriquet "Bluebeard". Although he is honored as a hero by the Austrian public, the Baron holds a terrible secret, which is discovered by his new wife Anne (Heatherton): a hidden vault in his castle that's filled with the frozen bodies of several beautiful women. When confronted with this, Bluebeard explains to Anne that he had six previous wives, and after a while, he murdered each of them. In order to avoid becoming Bluebeard's next frozen bride, Anne must find a way to outwit her murderous husband.

This film features examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Brigitte. Her introductory scene ends by showing her gnawing at the straw of what looks like a wine bottle, and the Baron later confirms that her one weakness was red wine.
    Brigitte: [clearly drunk] You are of some use, after all: You make an excellent wine.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Most versions of the tale describe Bluebeard as being ugly-looking on top of his off-putting blue beard. This version is given Richard Burton's noble looks. Anne downright calls him handsome.
  • Advertised Extra: Raquel Welch is actually billed second behind Burton, but in her role as Magdalena the nun she only has 8 minutes of screentime.
  • Animal Assassin: The Baron kills Caroline by using his trained falcon to have her falconed to death.
  • Artistic License – History: If the totalitarian group the Baron is part of is actually the Austrian Fatherland Front, then his admiration for Adolf Hitler makes no sense, as while the Fatherland Front was fascist, they were vehemently anti-Nazi due to the Nazis' aspirations to annex Austria.
  • Beard of Evil: Serial wife murderer Baron von Sepper has a blue-tinged beard.
  • The Bluebeard: As befitting of being the invoked Trope Namer, Bluebeard appears charming but keeps marrying women and then murdering them.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: On top of the film actually showing him performing pogroms, the Baron makes several references that, while they may have somehow being able to fly without calling much attention in the film's '30s setting, by the time of the film's release in The '70s were obvious indications of his Nazi (or whatever similar organization he's in) symphaties. These include refering to the fact that one of his wives was from Linz, which he refers to as "Hitler's city" (as it was the city where Hitler spent his childhood), as "the only good thing about her", and later, when mentioning that he met another of his wives at a modern art exhibition, he refers to modern art as "decadent Jewish art".
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Literally. Through the film, a man is seen stalking the Baron and Anne, and at the end of the film, it's revealed that he was one of the victims of a pogrom the Baron and his Nazi-like group orchestrated towards the beginning of the film, right before he successfully shoots the Baron dead.
  • Death by Looking Up: The Baron sees fit to wake up Erika, whom he plans to kill by dropping an elephant tusk on her, to look up and see it just in time for her to be impaled.
    Baron von Sepper: ...Erika?
    Erika: [wakes up, sees the elephant tusk looming at her] Nooooooooo!!! [the Baron drops the rope hoisting the tusk, impaling Erika and killing her] *Augh*
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The prostitute Erika hired to teach her on how to please the Baron (and whom she ended up sleeping with) ends up being the only casualty of the Baron's murder spree that wasn't one of his wives, when he kills both Erika and the prostitute by impaling them with an elephant's tusk that skewers them both.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Baron claims that the reason why he killed his wives was because he found them to commit transgressions against him; one couldn't stop singing, another was too lazy, and so on. At the end, however, he reveals that the actual reason was because he was impotent.
  • Drop Dead Gorgeous: Greta (Karin Schubert) lying dead after being shot, and then lying in state while being photographed (and kissed) by the Baron; also, Erika and the prostitute after being skewered by the elephant tusk. The frozen bodies of the Baron's victims in the walk-in freezer, as discovered by Anne, may also qualify (as filmed, they're actually rather obviously mannequins, some of which don't even look that much like the actual actresses).
  • Falling Chandelier of Doom: The elephant tusk that the Baron uses to kill Erika (and the prostitute she slept with) is mounted like a chandelier, so he only needs to untie the rope hoisting it to kill her (as she's lying on the floor below it).
  • Fanservice Extra: In a film already chock-full with gorgeous women, Sybil Danning appears as a prostitute who gets topless and has a Girl on Girl Is Hot makeout session with equally-topless Nathalie Delon before both are killed by the Baron. All this happens in about 5 minutes and warrants her being credited as just "The Prostitute".
  • Foreshadowing: In the scene where the prostitute teaches Erika on how to seduce a man:
    • When Erika asks the prostitute what her name is, she refuses by joking "Are you going to marry me?" They may have not gotten married, but they end up getting carried away during the "lesson" and end up sleeping together.
    • A rather contrived one is when the prostitute gives Erika lessons in stripping, and she advises her to keep her stockings on for an extra touch, telling her "Keep them on until death." The Baron ends up killing them while they are both nude, except for wearing stockings.
  • Groin Attack: When the Baron ends up fighting Brigitte, she at one point ends up kneeling him, hitting him right in the family jewels.
  • Hunting "Accident": The Baron manages to pass the murder of his first wife Greta, whom he shot while they were both hunting, as a hunting accident.
  • I Call Him "Mister Happy": An odd female version; Erika introduces her breasts as Jasmine and Cyclamen. The already-not-all-there Bluebeard is visibly stressed by the revelation.
  • I Love the Dead: After Baron von Sepper's first wife, Greta, dies after being shot dead in a Hunting "Accident" (she was actually shot in the back by the Baron), her body is seen laid out in her open coffin, perfectly coiffed and made up and dressed in a slinky, low-cut white satin evening gown, for her funeral. The Baron takes photographs of Greta's body, then kisses the corpse; then the scene cuts to another scene of the Baron making an abstract version of the photographs for display, implying that he had sex with the dead body. After Anne discovers the bodies of all of Bluebeard's murdered wives preserved in a walk-in freezer, the Baron reveals to Anne that he, being impotent, was unable to be aroused by any of his wives and describes this as the motive for his string of murders; left unanswered is the question as to whether his impotence only applied to his wives as living people. By its very nature, in fact (nobleman or high-society gentleman marries a string of beautiful women, murders them, and keeps their bodies around frozen or otherwise preserved), necrophilia is a frequent subtext in the various versions of the Bluebeard legend.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Erika (and the prostitute she slept with) is killed after the Baron drops a elephant tusk that was mounted on the ceiling, skewering her.
  • Irony: When Erika meets up with a prostitute so that she can teach her on how to pleasure the Baron, when Erika asks her name, she refuses, saying "Why? Do you want to marry me?" As it turns out, while they may not get married, Erika ends up getting a bit too into the "lesson" and the two end up sleeping together.
  • Kick the Dog: Really, Baron, was there any reason to wake up a sleeping Erika right before impaling her with the elephant's tusk other than scaring her at her last living moment? Jabootu's Ken Begg in his review (see Rule of Symbolism below) also called him out for this.
  • Law of Disproportionate Response: When Magdalena recounts her many sexual escapades to the Baron, he seems to take them in stride, if only slightly embarrassed. It's her revealing that the last one was a Communist that makes him mad (the Baron being A Nazi by Any Other Name).
  • Locked in a Freezer: The Baron eventually decides to dispose of Anne by locking her in the freezer where he stored the corpses of all his previous wives to let her freeze to death. She is eventually saved when the man who murders the Baron decides to go to his house to vandalize it and discovers the freezer's passage by accident.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: At the film's climax (no pun intended), the Baron reveals to Anne that the real reason why he killed his wives was not because of a Disproportionate Retribution for transgressions against him, as he had implied, but because he was impotent, and was thus unable to be aroused by any of them.
  • Manchild: Or womanchild; Erika is very infantile. Naming your breasts "Jasmine" and "Cyclamen"?
  • Meaningful Name: One of Bluebeard's wives is a former nun who recounted having many, many sexual exploits before donning the habit, and is named Madgalena. The biblical Mary Magdalene has been saddled with the widespread (but inaccurate) belief that she was a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman.note 
  • Ms. Fanservice: All of Bluebeard's wives are drop-dead gorgeous, being played by some of the most attractive actresses at the time, and every one of them (except Raquel Welch) gets naked at some point in the film. One review referred to the film as "Basically a Playboy magazine pictorial disguised as a film."note 
  • Momma's Boy: The Baron reveals himself as one. He has a massive painting of his mother hanging in one of his rooms, and Anne discovers that he actually has his mother's decaying corpse in a rocking chair in a guest room, a la Norman Bates. No wonder that when the Baron reveals himself as sexually impotent, Anne immediately assumes that it's because of his fixation with his mother.
  • Mood Whiplash: While the film is an adaptation of a macabre folktale, it still presents its events in a Camp, Black Comedy way (much like other adaptations and the folktale itself were, in fact). However, it being set in the 1930s and making Bluebeard a leading member of a Nazi-like organization results in him being shown performing a brutal pogrom at one point early on, which looks more like it should belong to a serious war drama rather than the Hammer Horror imitation the rest of the movie is. In fact, the only thing that avoids making the scene a invoked Big-Lipped Alligator Moment is that a man shown stalking Anne through the film is revealed at the end to be one of the victims of said pogrom and ends up killing the Baron.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Anne discovers that the Baron has his mother's decaying corpse in a rocking chair in a guest room.
  • Naughty Nuns: Madgalena (played by none other than Raquel Welch), who, the moment she left her vows to marry the Baron, decides to recount her many, many sexual exploits to the Baron.
  • Navel-Deep Neckline: In something of a variant of Covers Always Lie, publicity for the film showed Magdalena with a low-cut nun habit that in no way could have actually been allowed in real life. In the film itself, though, she wears a more plausible conservative version of it (although the more revealing version still appears in the film's Video Credits). That being said, Magdalena still wears a dress with a plunging neckline.
  • No Name Given: The prostitute hired by Erika isn't given a name, and ends up being credited as simply "The Prostitute". Interestingly, Erika actually does ask her name at one point, but she refuses to tell her.
  • No Swastikas: The title character is seen wearing what looks like a rather goofy-looking workaround for the swastika, but as mentioned above, it is in fact based on the symbol that represented the real-life Fatherland Front, a fascist group that did rule Austria in the 1930s before Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany (which is why they ironically, despite being fascist, were fervently anti-Nazi. Why this retelling of the Bluebeard legend was given such a Setting Update, nobody knows). That being said, outside the insignia, Bluebeard's group seems to try to look more like the Nazis, since their standard resembles the Nazi flag more than the Fatherland Front's actual flag, while the script makes reference to Hitler, Reinhard Heydrich and other German Nazi leaders.
  • Not in the Face!: When Brigitte tells the Baron to hit her again after finding herself aroused from getting beaten, and the Baron gets ready to slap her, she stops him, telling him to hit her anywhere but in the face, because she needs to stay beautiful for him as his wife.
  • Off with His Head!: Elga the singer get decapitated via guillotine.
  • Phallic Weapon: The Baron ends up killing Erika, after discovering her having slept with another woman, by impaling her with a long, phallic elephant tusk. Freud would've had a field day, especially with the later reveal that the Baron is sexually impotent.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: On top of being a serial spouse killer and A Nazi by Any Other Name who engages in violent pogroms, it is implied that the Baron's reason to be incensed with Erika isn't because she was unfaithful to him, but rather because she did so by sleeping with another woman. Oddly enough, him recounting her death is one of the few times where he seems to realize the depth of his murders, calling himself a "human monster."
    Baron: Their vice-ridden bodies, their shameless embraces... In such cases, only death can lend composure and dignity to the human monster.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: A stained glass window in one of the Baron's rooms can be used to look through said room. The Baron uses it to see Erika and the prostitute sleeping together. He is not amused.
  • Professional Sex Ed: A variation, when the Baron ends up being scared away from intimacy with Erika due to her antics in bed, she meets up with a prostitute so that she can teach her on how to pleasure the Baron. While different from the usual usage of this trope (namely, that the client is usually a boy on his first time), here is justified in that Erika is very infantile (as seen by her aforementioned bedroom antics) and demonstrates having no clue when it comes to lovemaking, and while it seemed that the "lesson" was originally conceived as strictly a demonstration, Erika ends up getting a bit too into the "lesson", and she ends up sleeping with the prostitute.
  • Red Right Hand: Bluebeard's... well, blue beard makes his villainy more obvious. It is explained that it is the result of a war injury in World War I involving chemical weapons. He says that he can't even shave it as, besides exposing his war scars, it is actually physically painful for him.
  • The Reveal: At the end of the film, the Baron reveals to Anne that the real reason why he killed his wives was not because of a Disproportionate Retribution for transgressions against him, as he had implied, but because he was impotent, and was thus unable to be aroused by any of his wives.
  • Rule of Symbolism: This review theorizes that Sepper's impotence is supposed to be a metaphor for the non-sexual "impotence" of the German nobles to prevent Hitler from coming to power.
  • Serial Killer: Bluebeard has murdered all his previous wives.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot:
    • A particularly creepy example occurs after Baron von Sepper's first wife, Greta, dies after being shot dead in a Hunting "Accident" (she was actually shot in the back by the Baron), when her body is seen laid out in her open coffin, perfectly coiffed and made up and dressed in a slinky, low-cut white satin evening gown, for her funeral. The Baron takes photographs of Greta's body, then kisses the corpse before the scene cuts to another, implying that he had sex with the dead body.
    • A more conventional one happens during the scene where the prostitute is teaching Erika about pleasuring. When the prostitute teaches Erika about kissing by actually kissing her, the camera cuts to show the Baron secretly watching them through a peephole in a stained glass window, as we hear Erika moaning of pleasure, indicating that her "teaching lesson" with the prostitute became something more.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The doctor who diagnoses the Baron with being impotent states that his experiences through the war might be a reason for his condition. Anne theorizes another reason: That he's a huge Momma's Boy to the point of Incest Subtext.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: When the Baron kills Erika and the prostitute while they were both sleeping, while the Baron wakes Erika up right before her demise, the prostitute is never shown reacting, implying that she was killed in her sleep.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The film ends with Anne leaving the Baron's funeral as jaunty jazz music blares across the soundtrack.
  • Straw Feminist: Brigitte is introduced giving a speech while dressed in androgynous clothing in which she declares that women "must rebel againt the tyranny of the male." So, of course, she's also established as an alcoholic, and the moment the Baron beats her, she enjoys it, and her previous disinterest in sex disappears in favor of ecstatically asking him to make love to her. Ironically, it seems that her pursuits of traditionally male interests (and her aforementioned previous disinterest in sex) actually made the Baron bond with her.
  • Stocking Filler: The prostitute that gives Erika lessons in seduction advises her to keep her stockings on after stripping nude for an extra touch. The prostitute eventually is stripping along with Erika to show her how it's done, and sure enough, the two are soon unclothed with only their stockings on … and eventually engaging in some obligatory (if light) lesbian action.
  • A Taste of the Lash: When Brigitte ask the Baron to hit her in a way that doesn't harm her face, the Baron decides to whip her in his wine cellar.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: When the Baron ends up beating Brigitte, she discovers that she actually enjoys it, and asks the Baron to hit her more. When he complies and whips her, she is in such ecstasy that she is ready to make love with him. Unfortunately for her, as The Reveal would later show, her previous disinterest in sex was actually the one thing that the Baron liked about her, so he kills her.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: To the world at large, the Baron von Sepper is a war hero, a patriot and a ladykiller, as opposed to being a literal lady killer and a fascist.