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  Bluebeard's Eighth Wife Spite Marriage
Year: 1938
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Stars: Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Edward Everett Horton, David Niven, Elizabeth Patterson, Herman Bing, Warren Hymer, Franklin Pangborn, Armand Cortes, Rolfe Sedan, Lawrence Pape, Lionel Grant, Tyler Brooke, Leon Ames
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Michael Brandon (Gary Cooper) is a multi-millionaire with a problem: he only sleeps in pajama tops and has no interest in pajama bottoms. So when he is on the French Riviera and wishes to buy said item of clothing in a swanky department store there, the man behind the counter is aghast and tells him there's no way he could sell him just the top of the garment, and an argument ensues with the assistant forced to phone his boss to explain the matter. Then something happens to solve the problem: a young woman, Nicole (Claudette Colbert) offers to buy the other half...

That's what you call a "meet cute", meaning a meeting between two characters who will soon be romantically involved but would never have encountered each other if it hadn't been for a (hopefully) amusing coincidence or contrivance to set the plot in motion. This one was thought up by Billy Wilder, who at this stage in his career was making a name for himself as an excellent screenwriter along with his then-writing partner Charles Brackett. Wilder would soon be branching out on his own directing excursions, but he always kept a sign in his office which read "How would Lubitsch do it?" in tribute to the director of this film.

Ernst Lubitsch may not be one of the most famous directors of the past these days, but he was very well respected in the industry at the time for his risque romantic comedies of which he was a master. With Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, on the other hand, it seemed he had a chink in his armour, for it did not enjoy a great reaction as both critics and audiences identified issues they had with the film, leading it to be regarded as one of his lesser works. Watch it now and you'll likely see many of those problems were indeed there, although the social misgivings about following the idle rich during the Depression may not be as keenly felt.

Then again, watching Brandon, who had been married seven times and can well afford what are now called pre-nuptual agreements for each of his ex-wives may rankle with modern audiences too, but what was a bigger stumbling block was believing Cooper's straight ahead, dependable persona was ever right for a serial womaniser - on screen, he just didn't seem the type. Whatever reason Lubitsch though he was right for the role did not translate into the comedy, and too often Coop looked awkward, not only because he was an American businessman in France, but because he never convinced you he would be acting the way he does if he wasn't following a script.

Colbert fared better, but then she was born to play this style of comedy and romance, although slightly disappointingly she didn't adopt her French accent to play the Frenchwoman as she had done in Under Two Flags a couple of years before and stuck with the American intonation; her fans would relish the few words in French she did speak. Brandon relentlessly pursued Nicole until she said yes, but she does so without realising her new fiancé's relationship history and when she does find out, she is none too pleased, leaving the marriage a disaster where she simply wants his money to give to her poor aristocrat father (Edward Everett Horton) to improve his circumstances. Bizarrely this state of affairs leaves Brandon in an asylum when he has a breakdown, not exactly hilarious, but then this was tending towards missteps all the way through, with only the winning players who had proven themselves elsewhere - David Niven shines brightly in support - keeping the light farce afloat.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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