Thursday, March 14, 2002


At last, a full-blooded screwball comedy I can love! I've never heard much about this movie; it seems to fly under the critical radar. Most of the movie guides I consulted didn't like it much. I've discussed my love/hate relationship with screwball comedies here before (see Wednesday, December 19, 2001). In some ways, this resembles one of my least favorite movies, the archetypal screwball comedy BRINGING UP BABY, with the heroine pestering the hero to death until he finally gives in, but in BLUEBEARD, I can understand better why she's doing the pestering.

Gary Cooper is a millionaire businessman visiting the French Riviera. When he raises a ruckus by stubbornly and obnoxiously insisting on buying just pajama tops at a clothing store, Claudette Colbert steps in to offer to buy the bottoms. Cooper is immediately taken with her and begins a whirlwind courtship. Her father, Edward Everett Horton (at his best in a very Prussian buzz cut and mustache) is titled but out of money and Cooper basically attempts to buy her from Horton. This, of course, disturbs Colbert, who also finds out that she will be Cooper's 8th wife, a fact Cooper thinks is unimportant. She goes through with the marriage but gets back at Cooper by withholding sex; if he can treat their relationship as a business transaction, so can she! She vows to make him miserable and to wind up being the worst investment he's ever made.

The screwball tactic of mixing love and irritation works well here, and I think it's mostly due to Colbert's underplaying. It's actually fun to see Cooper get emotional occasionally, contradicting his usual quiet and stoic persona. At one point, he lets out with a piercing war whoop in joy. Toward the end, he's institutionalized (a plot point that works better here than in LOVE CRAZY) and has to be put in a straitjacket, leading to a climactic (in more ways than one) sight gag. Ernst Lubitsch directed and his touch is in evidence in several places, including some nice bits for supporting players, and a few scenes that don't really advance the plot but are lots of fun (for example, a scene at the asylum where a man seems to be cured of thinking he's a chicken). A young and attractive David Niven plays another admirer of Colbert's and Franklin Pangborn is in high dudgeon as a hotel manager. There are lots of one-liners and many wonderful scenes with Colbert and Cooper; this, along with the 1934 CLEOPATRA, has given me a newfound appreciation of Colbert. Highly recommended!

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