The opening scene of Ernst Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938) shows multi-millionaire Michael Brandon (Gary Cooper) walking into a department store to buy pajamas. He picks out the pair he wants, but then informs the clerk that he doesn’t want the bottoms, only the tops. Michael doesn’t sleep in the bottoms, and as a matter of principal, refuses to pay for something he won’t use. After the clerk checks with the management he informs Michael that they cannot sell just half of the set, but before Michael gets too upset he is interrupted by the young and beautiful Nicole de Loiselle (Claudette Colbert). She is shopping for just the bottom half of pajamas, and is more than happy to purchase the set with Michael, and then divide it between them. Everything about this scene (and the rest of the film) is a complete farce. The entire situation couldn’t get any more ridiculous, yet it doesn’t even matter because it is too humorous to be anything except entertaining.
As the story continues to unfold, Michael believes that Nicole is the only woman in the world for him, and decides to pull out all the stops in order to marry her. Nicole’s father (Edward Everett Horton) has completely run out of money and encourages her to marry Michael. Although Nicole is attracted to Michael, she doesn’t appreciate the feeling of being “bought” and is hesitant to agree to the marriage. Eventually she is convinced, but right before the wedding Michael mentions that he has been married before. She was not aware of this, and is even more shocked to discover that he has not only been married, but has been married seven other times.
With the understanding that she is just Michael’s next prize, she threatens to cancel the wedding. Her father begs her to reconsider, and Michael tells her not to worry because all of his ex-wives are given a generous allowance. Should their marriage fall apart as well, he will of course do the same for her.
Shocked, Nicole decides to dedicate the rest of her life to teaching Michael a lesson about love. She agrees to marry him, but only after he doubles his usual ex-wife allowance price. Then as soon as their wedding is over, she begins to live her own life, spending absolutely no time with Michael and making him extremely frustrated (in more ways than one). She becomes determined to show Michael that marriage and love shouldn’t be treated like a business, and she is willing to go however far in necessary to achieve her goal. She even makes it appear that she is having an affair with her friend, and Michael’s employee, Albert De Regnier (David Niven).
When it boils right down to it, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is a movie about one woman’s determination to prove the importance of love. Her resolve to teach him a lesson is completely uncompromising, and truthfully it is inspiring to see. Nicole is willing to spend years of her own life living alone, in order to show Michael the error of his ways.
Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is a surprisingly strong film. The script, which had a whole team of writers (including Billy Wilder) attached, is extremely creative and flat out hilarious. Of course even with a great comical script you still have to have great comedic actors, and those were easy for Lubitsch to find. He had previously worked with Claudette Colbert in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), and Gray Cooper in Design For Living (1933). They both had obviously come into this film knowing exactly what Lubitsch wanted, and they delivered perfectly. Then once you add in the always-amusing E.E. Horton and the extremely hilarious David Niven, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is suddenly packed with marvelous and talented actors in each and every scene.
Today, you can still find the occasional person using the phrase, “The Lubitsch Touch”, but it doesn’t seem to have lasted through the test of time. It is unfortunate because it is the perfect way to describe this film. It just gives off a different feeling than other films of that era, and his films leave you smiling every time. So many of Lubitsch’s films stand out today because of his unique style, as well as his ability to tackle any subject matter (no matter how taboo) without any regrets. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife is no exception, and is a true marvel of a film that promises to entertain, just the way Ernst Lubitsch always does.Back to Home for More Reviews