Beware of the popular consensus when it comes to movies. Don’t let it get under your skin, because there’s a lesson to be learned from Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. Movie reviewing isn’t a science. If it were, then a lot of people saying the same thing would be hard to dispute, but sometimes you’ve gotta watch a film for yourself, and that can be hard to do when you don’t have a lot of time or are on a budget.
The verdict you’re going to consistently encounter with Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is that it is one of director Ernst Lubitsch’s lesser films. How seriously to take “lesser” when it’s being used to refer to Lubitsch (whose directorial credits include personal favorite Heaven Can Wait and Trouble in Paradise) is something to keep in mind, but one of the main criticisms thrown at the picture has been that its misogynistic and the trailer (which Kino Lorber have not included on their release, but film critic Kat Ellinger mentions it in her commentary track) doesn’t do it any favors. If anything, the trailer seems to want to use misogyny as a selling point. It’s a bad look, but in context, these scenes are a lot less rough and they’re also unrepresentative of the film as a whole.
Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert previously worked with Lubitsch – Cooper in Design for Living and Colbert in The Smiling Lieutenant. Here they play Michael Brandon and Nicole de Loiselle, two people who meet while shopping for pajamas. Michael only wants to buy a pajama shirt. Nicole agrees to buy the pants. Michael is smitten but, as the title gives away, this isn’t Michael’s first marriage, something Nicole learns pretty late in the game.
From the beginning, money plays a role in their relationship. Michael is rich and, should she drive him to divorce, Nicole will receive a major payout. But you never get the sense that she’s in it for the money, and that’s what the trailer misses: how confident and clever Nicole is. At one point, Michael gets the wrong idea about who Nicole is buying the pants for and one way to land the joke would’ve been to make Nicole unaware that there’d been any misunderstanding. As Ellinger points out in her commentary, though, Nicole knows exactly how her words are being received and that deliberateness gives her character agency.
Other topics Ellinger covers include Lubitsch’s tendency to set his American films in Europe and the artificial looking settings. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife would mark the first time that Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett worked together as a writing team (a collaboration that would lead to further classics such as Sunset Boulevard and Ninotchka). It should also be noted how hilarious David Niven is in a supporting role as Nicole’s bank clerk friend turned secretary. His dedication to confirming what salutation Michael wants used at the end of a letter could be one of the film’s finest examples of comedic timing.
Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife isn’t just for Lubitsch completists and is available now on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.