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With: Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Edward Everett Horton, David Niven, Elizabeth Patterson, Herman Bing, Warren Hymer, Franklin Pangborn, Armand Cortes, Rolfe Sedan, Lawrence Grant, Lionel Pape, Tyler Brooke
Written by: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, based on a play by Alfred Savoir
Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 85
Date: 03/25/1938

Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Shredding Vows

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ernst Lubitsch's Bluebeard's Eighth Wife is somewhat similar to other battle-of-the-sexes screwball comedies like Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth and Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but it somehow just doesn't work quite as well.

Lubitsch's instantly recognizable, elegant direction is here, and there are some funny bits with some of the supporting characters; I especially got a few giggles out of Warren Hymer as boxer "Kid Mulligan." But something is just off. Maybe it's that Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett's script is just too acidy for Lubitsch's sensibility, or perhaps Gary Cooper isn't quite right for the part. (Maybe someone a little more comically flexible, like Cary Grant, would have been better.)

In any case, Cooper plays Michael Brandon, an enormously successful businessman. We first meet him in a French department store haggling with clerks about pajamas. He insists that he only wants to buy the top half, and that no man sleeps in the bottom parts. (As the argument goes on, as clerks climb stairs to seek out higher-ranking superiors, it turns into one of the best Lubitsch-touch sequences in the film.) The lovely Nicole de Loiselle (Claudette Colbert) intervenes and offers to buy the bottom half. Michael is instantly smitten. He pursues her, and she eventually relents.

But as they are about to shoot their wedding photo, Michael pulls out a handkerchief from his wedding suit and rice goes everywhere. She discovers that not only has he been married before, but he has been married seven times before. To be honest, while this material is dated, it would be pretty shocking to find anyone today that had been married that many times.

From there, she agrees to marry him, but only if he agrees to a yearly payment of $100,000 should they divorce. (His other ex-wives each get $50,000.) As soon as the nuptials are completed, she turns cold, not letting him touch her, pushing for the divorce. Their interactions become increasingly stressful and bitter, and not very funny. But Edward Everett Horton is great as Nicole's father, who openly, unashamedly hopes for the divorce and the money, as is Elizabeth Patterson as feisty Aunt Hedwige, who gives Michael what-for from her wheelchair.

I suppose this will be worth seeing for cinephiles that are already Lubitsch fans, but this is not a particularly good place to start in his filmography. Kino Lorber released the film on Blu-ray in 2020 in a nice-looking transfer that is perhaps a bit low-contrasty, but still perfectly acceptable. There are optional English subtitles and a batch of trailers, mostly for other Cooper movies (like the great Man of the West).

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