Broken Lullaby & Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife – Blu-Ray Review

Ernst Lubitsch was known mainly for his run of screwball comedies from the 1930s up through the 1940s, such as The Shop Around the Corner and Trouble in Paradise. Here we have two films made at his peak, but with very different directions from his usual. They have been released on separate Blu-Rays from Indicator.

Broken Lullaby was an anti-war drama, something Lubitsch certainly was not known for—although he did make To Be or Not to Be, a satire against the Nazis, during the Second World War. He had done quite a few dramas when working as a silent film director in Germany. Lubitsch had left Germany quite early, arriving in Hollywood in 1922 and quickly picked up under contract by Mary Pickford. I would assume that his choice of subject in 1931 may have been inspired by the rise of the Nazis, which was underway by that time.

It’s about a French soldier, Paul (Phillips Holmes) who goes to Germany to visit the family of the soldier he killed in World War I. He has to lie his way into the family’s hearts, and eventually reveals what happened. It’s an odd little movie, with the lead character seeking forgiveness from the family. Much of the story is told through flashbacks, and it shows what the impact of war was on a young man’s mind. It’s not an amazing film, but it’s good.

Broken Lullaby is undeniably well shot, although its pacifistic theme remained in the shadow of All Quiet on the Western Front, which was a massive hit. At the time, Holmes was a major leading man, but he was brought down by a scandal involving a drunken driving accident with a starlet who sued. That didn’t help his career much, but it had an abrupt end when he died during the war. Holmes is fine here, and Lionel Barrymore turns in a good performance as the dead soldier’s father.

The new release comes with an audio commentary by author/film historian Joseph McBride, a documentary on Lubitsch produced for a BFI retrospective of the director’s work, and a video essay comparing Broken Lullaby and a much later remake by François Ozon, Frantz. Also included are an image gallery and a booklet with a new essay from Christina Newland, archival profiles of Lubitsch, Barrymore and screenwriter Samuel Raphaelson, plus an overview of contemporary critical pieces.

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is a much more fun movie, and more typical of the “Lubitsch touch”. It’s based on a play, and there had already been a silent version in 1924 starring Gloria Swanson—although that one, directed by Sam Wood, has been lost. Wood was a director who worked quite often with this version’s star, Gary Cooper.

It starts with a great version of that romantic comedy staple, the “meet-cute.” Nicole (Claudette Colbert) and Michael (Cooper) meet when he wants to buy the top of a pair of pyjamas and she wants the bottoms. He’s a wealthy businessman with commitment issues, and it’s all set on the French Riviera—although it clearly wasn’t shot there. Colbert ends up becoming his eighth wife, and hijinks ensue. Another man played by a very young David Niven, in an early attempt to make it in the US market when he was still in supporting roles, plays a key role in a sub-plot about mistaken identity and infidelity.

I was surprised, but Cooper is actually quite good in his comic role, and Colbert is of course fantastic. The pair definitely have chemistry, and if you’re a fan of Lubitsch you shouldn’t miss this one. It was out of circulation for many years, after a package of Paramount titles was sold to MCA Universal for showing on TV but for unknown reasons Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife was left out of the deal.

The film was co-written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, so it has some great dialogue; there is even a spanking scene! It was something of a bomb at the time, as supposedly US audiences couldn’t bear to see Cooper as a horrible philandering millionaire. Incidentally, Colbert wasn’t Lubitsch’s first choice—he had been after Marion Davies, but she had essentially retired from film at that point. If that had worked out, it could have been the part that gave Davies the credibility she deserved (the only thing Orson Welles ever said he regretted about Citizen Kane was that some people assumed he was pillorying Davies in his character of Susan Kane, which was not the case).

Packaged with a new audio commentary from film curator and lecturer Eloise Ross, Indicator’s release also includes a 1984 Guardian interview with Colbert at the National Film Theatre; a Niven-narrated military training film, United States; the original trailer, stills gallery and promotional materials. The accompanying booklet features an essay from Pamela Hutchinson, a contemporary profile of Lubitsch, archival production reports, a Fiona Kelly piece about United States, and an account of the lost Swanson version from 1923.


Ian Schultz

Buy Broken Lullaby

Buy Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife


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