Skip to main content

Film Friday: "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1938)

To celebrate Gary Cooper's 114th birthday, which was yesterday, this week on "Film Friday" I am bringing you the first Gary Cooper film I ever saw.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) begins when American millionaire Michael Brandon (Gary Cooper) enters a men's clothing store on the French Riviera to buy a pyjama. He only wants to purchase the top, which is all he sleeps in. This unusual request causes some consternation among the salesmen, but everything seems to be settled when Nicole de Loiselle (Claudette Colbert), an impoverish aristocrat, agrees to split the costs and buy the trousers. Michael is intrigued by the seductively coy Nicole and their meeting turns into a conversation about sleeping habits, with her suggesting that he try spelling "Czechoslovakia" backwards to cure his insomnia.

Michael continues to have insomnia, however, and demands to change his suite at the hotel. The managers (Franklin Pangborn and Armand Cortes), show him a room, although the Marquis the Loiselle (Edward Everett Horton) is residing there. The marquis tries to convince Michael to go in on a deal with him, but he refuses until he recognizes the pyjama bottoms and the marquis identifies himself as Nicole's father. Michael agrees to buy a Louis XIV bathtub from the penniless marquis as a gesture of good will and informs the marquis he wishes to marry his daughter. Michael later proposes to Nicole while she is at the beach with her friend Albert De Regnier (David Niven), but she refuses because he seems arrogant. Michael then sends an apology and an invitation to dinner and they fall in love that evening. At her engagement party, however, Nicole discovers that Michael had been married seven times previously and furiously calls off the wedding. She then agrees to marry, though not before insisting upon a pre-nuptial agreement that will give her the generous sum of $100,000 in the event of a divorce. They never consummate the marriage and live in separate rooms, despite his attempts to bridge the gap. When Nicole pretends to have an affair with Albert, Michael finally agrees to a divorce and, emotionally drained, commits himself to a sanitarium. With their newfound wealth, the marquis buys the sanitarium and Nicole pledges her love to Michael.

Nicole de Loiselle: Mr. Brandon, you're terrific, you're gigantic, you're breathtaking. I wish someone would tell you what I really think of you.

When Billy Wilder signed with Paramount Pictures in 1936, Manny Wolf, head of the story department, decided to team him with another contract screenwriter, Charles Brackett, a former drama critic of The New Yorker. Though their very dissimilar styles and personalities clashed constantly, they worked perfectly as a writing team and their association would last for more than a decade. The first film that Wilder and Brackett co-wrote was Bluebeard's Eighth Wife, an adaptation of a play by Alfred Savoir that had previously been filmed in 1923 with Gloria Swanson.

Ernst Lubitsch on the set
When he was preparing Bluebeard's Eighth Wife for filming, which began in October 1937, Ernst Lubitsch wanted Charles Brackett alone to write the screenplay. He didn't ask for Wilder because he didn't want to give the impression that he was a German-born director who favored hiring members of the German immigrant community in Hollywood. But when Wolf told Lubitsch that Brackett and Wilder were a team, he had to take him anyway. Lubitsch was Wilder's idol and he was fascinated by the way his mind worked in devising and directing scenes. Lubitsch was a perfectionist and he always insisted on polishing a screenplay until it was as good as possible, often making his own little additions to it.

If truth were known, [Lubitsch] was the best writer that ever lived. Most of the 'Lubitsch touches' came from him. I remember in Bluebeard, the script had a scene where Gary Cooper walks into a department store in Nice and sees some signs. One of them says 'Se Habla Español,' another one says 'English Spoken Here.' [Lubitsch] took a pencil and wrote underneath that 'American understood'. A tiny little joke, but it meant everything.
(Billy Wilder)

A classic "Lubitsch touch"

Lubitsch had enjoyed working with Claudette Colbert so much in The Smilling Lieutenant (1931) that he didn't think twice about casting her in the female lead. This was also Gary Cooper's second film with Lubitsch, who had previously directed him in Design For Living (1933). Coincidently, this was also Cooper and Colbert's second time working together, after starring in Edward Sloman's drama His Woman (1931). Though this was not Cooper's first comedy, he was apparently terrified of working with Colbert in one, since he considered her to be an expert in the genre.

For the role of Albert de Regnier, Paramount borrowed David Niven from MGM. Niven was absolutely delighted to be working with Lubitsch, Cooper and Colbert and later recalled his time on the set of Bluebeard's Eighth Wife as one of the happiest in his life.
Working with Lubitsch in the company of such professional experts and such privately wonderful human beings as Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert was a joy that last for about three months.
(David Niven)

Ernst Lubitsch, Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert on the set

Upon its March 1938 release, despite the hilarity and good fellowship that prevailed during the film's production, the critical response for Bluebeard's Eighth Wife was not very enthusiastic. Though Colbert and the supporting cast received some good notices, as well as Wilder and Brackett's script and Lubitsch direction, Gary Cooper was considered to be terribly miscast. After he had appeared as the boyish innocent Longfellow Deeds in Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), audiences didn't seem to be able to accept him as a worldly philanderer.

Personally, I think the film is absolutely fabulous. The script is genius, Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert's chemistry is on the spot and I have no problem whatsoever believing in him as a multi-marrying millionaire. At first, I thought that maybe that was because this was the first time I ever saw Gary Cooper in a film and therefore had no idea what kind of actor he was and what kind of roles he played and what his screen persona was like. But I've seen twenty other Gary Cooper films since Bluebeard's Eight Wife and I still don't find him at all miscast. Either way, I absolutely loved this film and it made laugh out loud several times throughout its 85 minutes. Any film that can make me laugh as much as Bluebeard's Eighth Wife did is a winner in my eyes. I still don't know how to spell "Czechoslovakia" backwards, though.

Claudette Colbert: She Walked in Beauty by Bernard F. Dick (2008) | Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise by Scott Eyman (2000) | Gary Cooper: American Hero by Jeffrey Meyers (2001) | Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder by Gene Phillips (2010) | The Moon's a Balloon by David Niven (2005)


Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Impressed by Patricia's looks, Vidor approached the young actress and asked if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist, and the studio was then considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.          Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about Patricia, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, « What's that!? » He tried to con

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and practically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a comedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as Melsa and Peter in The Mad Miss Manton .   Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire and Joe Keaton The Crowd (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady and Marjorie Weaver Brief Encounter (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman The Girl He Left Behind (1956) | Starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood Gidget (1959) | Starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson an

Wings of Change: The Story of the First Ever Best Picture Winner

Wings was the first ever film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, it has become one of the most influential war dramas, noted for its technical realism and spectacular air-combat sequences. This is the story of how it came to be made.   A man and his story The concept for Wings originated from a writer trying to sell one of his stories. In September 1924, Byron Morgan approached Jesse L. Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players-Lasky, a component of Paramount Pictures, proposing that the studio do an aviation film. Morgan suggested an «incident and plot» focused on the failure of the American aerial effort in World War I and the effect that the country's «aviation unpreparedness» would have in upcoming conflicts. Lasky liked the idea, and approved the project under the working title «The Menace.»   LEFT: Byron Morgan (1889-1963). RIGHT: Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958).   During his development of the scenario with William Shepherd, a former war correspondent, Morga

80 Reasons Why I Love Classic Films (Part II)

I started this blog six years ago as a way to share my passion for classic films and Old Hollywood. I used to watch dozens of classic films every month, and every time I discovered a new star I liked I would go and watch their entire filmography. But somewhere along the way, that passion dimmed down. For instance, I watched 73 classic films in 2016, and only 10 in 2020. The other day, I found this film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that I had never heard of — the film is Mimi (1935), by the way — and for some reason it made me really excited about Old Hollywood again. It made me really miss the magic of that era and all the wonderful actors and actresses. And it also made me think of all the reasons why I fell in love with classic films in the first place. I came with 80 reasons, which I thought would be fun to share with you. Most of them are just random little scenes or quirky little quotes, but put them together and they spell Old Hollywood to me. Yesterday I posted part one ; here i

Top 10 Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas has always been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers. Over the years, filmmakers have adapted various Christmas stories into both movies and TV specials, which have become staples during the holiday season all around the world. Even though Christmas is my favourite holiday, I haven't watched a lot of Christmas films. Still, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 10 favourites, based on the ones that I have indeed seen. Here they are.  10. Holiday Affair (1949) Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair tells the story of a young widow (Janet Leigh) torn between a boring attorney (Wendell Corey) and a romantic drifter (Robert Mitchum). She's engaged to marry the boring attorney, but her son (Gordon Gebert) likes the romantic drifter better. Who will she choose? Well, we all know who she will choose.   Holiday Affair is not by any means the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it's still a very enjoyable Yule-tide comedy to watch over the holi

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the eponymous novel by John O'Hara about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day of that year, the show brought Gene his best reviews up to that date. For instance, John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: «A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique .»   One of Gene's performances in Pal Joey was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub, at 10 East 60th Street. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after whi

Films I Saw in July & August

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in July and August, which make up a total of 18 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Resistance (2011) | Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen Siberian Education [Educazione siberiana] (2013) | Starring Arnas Fedaravi čius The Last of Robin Hood (2013) | Starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning The Water Diviner (2014) | Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko and Yılmaz Erdoğan Holding the Man (2015) | Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott and Anthony LaPaglia The Last King [Birkebeinerne] (2016) | Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju The Pass (2016) | Starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene Access All Areas (2017) | Starring Ella Purnell, Edward Bluemel and Georgie Henle

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Films I Saw in May & June

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in May and June, which make up a total of 16 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Pelle the Conqueror [Pelle Erobreren] (1987) | Starring Pelle Hvenegaard The Elementary School [ Obecná škola] (1991) | Starring Václav Jakoubek Female Agents [Les Femmes de l'ombre] (2008) | Starring Sophie Marceau Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe [Vor der Morgenröte] (2016) | Starring Josef Hader ❤ Cold War [Zimna wojna] (2018) | Starring Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig and Borys Szyc Dreamland (2019) | Starring Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel and Garrett Hedlund Mr Jones (2019) | Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard Official Secrets (2019) | Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith an