BLUEBEARD’S EIGHTH WIFE (1938)

Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/ collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009. — J.R.

On the Riviera, an American multimillionaire (Gary

Cooper) with many ex-wives meets and romances the

daughter (Claudette Colbert) of a ruined Marquis

(Edward Everett Horton) and proposes marriage;

after she accepts, she learns about his former wives

and refuses to consummate their marriage, baiting

him with a string of pretended infidelities (including

one with a very young David Niven). This is an uncharacteristic

comedy of Ernst Lubitsch by virtue of its relative cruelty

and unpleasantness, both of which seem ascribable in

part to the writing team of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder

-– who would later show similar traits in their scripts for

such noncomic films as The Lost Weekend (1945) and

Sunset Boulevard (1950) -– adapting here a not-very-

well-known French farce by Alfred Savoir, La huitième

femme de Barbe-Bleue. Paradoxically, 34 years later,

working with I.A.L. Diamond, Wilder would remember certain

aspects of this film -– above all, the depiction of an

obnoxious and wealthy American abroad and a tense

romantic dialogue conducted on a float in the Mediterranean

— in the much sweeter and clearly Lubitsch-inspired

Avanti!

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