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A serialkiller dubbed Bluebeard has 19th century Paris in his
grip, and women (he preys exclusively on the female of the species) hardly
dare to leave their homes at night anymore. Only Lucille (Jean Parker)
seems to be more or less unfazed by the killer's threat, so much so that
she one night insists to go to a puppet theatre just for amusement. At the
show, Lucille soon befriends its owner Gaston (John Carradine), and since
he needs new outfits for his puppets and she is a modiste, they agree to
work together. She also wants him, an accomplished painter, to paint her,
but he outright refuses ... and fortunately so, because what Lucille
doesn't know is that Gaston is actually Bluebeard, and he has a habit of
killing the women he has painted.
Eventually, the police stumble upon
one of Gaston's paintings showing one of the murdered girls, and they
immediately grow suspicious - but his art dealer Lamarte (Ludwig Stössel)
feeds them some cock-and-bull story about not knowing the identity of the
artist - even though he's Gaston's landlord, patron - and the only one who
knows about his habit to kill his models. The cops don't buy Lanmarte's
story so they send an undercover agent to Lamarte as a model who wants to
be painted by Gaston - and incidently that model is Francine (Teala
Loring), Lucille's sister. Francine's session with Gaston goes alright,
until she recognizes him as her sister's puppeteer (he doesn't recognize
her, which makes perfect sense on the movie), and he sees no other way but
to kill her, and Lamarte as well, and all the precautions of the police
cannot keep him from doing so or even cut off his escape via a secret
passageway and the sewers.
Lucille recognizes the tie Francine was
killed with as one of Gaston's, but rather than telling it to the police,
she confronts him with this fact, and he confesses everything to her: That
he once was an unsuccessful and mediocre artist, until he found a dying
girl, Jeanette (Anne Sterling), whom he didn't only nurse back to health
but also paint - and the resulting painting became his first masterpiece.
It wasn't until later that Gaston learned that Jeanette was a prostitute,
and in a fit of rage, he killed her. From then on, every woman he painted
reminded him of Jeanette, and every time he felt the urge to kill his
model (and went through with it) - so much so that he refused to paint,
but got tricked into doing so time and again by Lamarte. That though was
also the reason he didn't want to paint Lucille, because he has fallen in
love with her.
When after his confession Lucille is shocked rather than
overcome with love for him, Gaston tries to kill her too, but the police
have caught up with him, chase him over the rooftops of Paris, and
ultimately, he is shot and falls into the Seine, exactly where he formerly
preferred to dispose of his victims.
A great little film by
often ridiculed production company PRC, and proof that a very
limited budget doesn't automatically result in a bad film is a good script
is treated by a competent director - and Edgar G.Ulmer was one of the
finest of his day. Here, and intelligently written serialkiller story is
told in the style of a gothic, in a series of unusual yet subtle sets,
carried by a great nuanced performance by John Carradine, supported by a
cast of at least competent actors, each it seems in just the right role.
And even though the lack of budget shows every now and again, there is no
reason that could have been a much better film with higher production