Every now and then there is a movie that will come along and surprise you, some aspect of it that you already had a preconceived notion of that turns out to be something else entirely and is welcome because of it. In this particular case, it is the performance of John Carradine. The man is a legend and a horror icon, but for the most part, there is rarely any subtlety to his delivery – being all bluster, exclamations and overacting. It is exactly why people love him, Carradine never fails to entertain no matter how corny he might seem or look or sound. As Bluebeard, while a few of Carradine’s trademarks are present, the man actually gives a very solid performance of a puppeteer who is also a killer. There is in fact a bit of subtlety to his portrayal of Bluebeard and even a little thoughtfulness, and it could very well stand as one of his better jobs as an actor.
As for the story, it is not all that original and that is fine as long as they tell it well, of which they do. It deals with a man by the name of Gaston Morrell who just so happens to be in the habit of doing away with his wives. As nobody has caught on as of yet, he continues to do so and one day he meets Lucille after one of his performances, commissioning her to make some costumes for his puppets. Things soon start to unravel for Morrell and his love for Lucille puts him in a precarious position, especially after the murder of her sister comes to light.
For the most part, the film plays out like a standard melodrama and while you begin to wonder just where the horror is going to come in, director Edgar G. Ulmer starts to weave in little threads that start to ratchet up the suspense until there is no going back. Though it was obviously a collaborative effort, Carradine is the man that really pulls it all together as he is fairly electric in his role as Morrell. What is quite interesting about his character is that he knows he is a killer and he knows exactly what his trigger is and even has the forethought to evade any instances of it in the hopes that he can change his ways and live a happy life. The problem is, like any addict or compulsion, it is easier said than done and Morrell cannot simply go from being one way to another with a snap of the fingers. Seeing Morrell battle himself is part of what makes this picture so good and when he loses that fight, things really pick up from there.
Made by PRC, a studio that was not exactly known to shower their pictures with money, this film actually looked pretty good, from the cinematography to the costumes and everything in between. The horror may not be what most expect, but it is present and it is skillfully done to elicit all the right responses in the audience. Bluebeard may not have garnered the acclaim as other pictures might have in 1944, but it remains a very entertaining feature, one that can be easily revisited again and again with Carradine in top form.
3.5 out of 5