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Bluebeard (DVD)

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Bluebeard (DVD)

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Originally intended as the follow-up to his macabre 1934 classic The Black Cat, Edgar G. Ulmer's Bluebeard was to have starred Boris Karloff as the infamous (though now exonerated) lady-killer. Instead, as befitted his career path, Ulmer would have to wait a decade before filming Bluebeard with John Carradine, a poor man's Karloff even in his prime. Exiled from Universal to a career laboring for Poverty Row studios, Ulmer developed a reputation for making the best out of meager resources. His stature has only grown over the years, thanks to some French champions and films such as Bluebeard, an accomplished low-budget version of the oft-told tale. Carradine stars as the title character, in this version a painter and puppeteer with the nasty habit of killing his models. It's incorrect and too easy, given what he had to work with, to overstate Ulmer's skill: He doesn't always spin gold out of straw, but he rarely winds up with mere straw. Bluebeard, in which Ulmer transforms his protagonist from a creature of folklore into a Jack The Ripper-like serial killer in 19th-century Paris, has the odd habit of vacillating between a police procedural and a horror film in the Universal mold. But to compensate for its unevenness, Ulmer offers a pervasive stylishness, particularly in the form of creepy lighting, and several unforgettable moments, such as a puppet production of Faust. It may not be enough to elevate Bluebeard to the status of a classic, but it's more than enough to make it worth watching, and to maintain interest in an ongoing series of Ulmer reissues on DVD. His work deserves the second chance his career never got.