Edgar G. Ulmer, one of Hollywood’s most eccentric and evocative film stylists, is mostly known for directing two films: the poverty row noir Detour (1945) and the Boris Karloff-Bela Lugosi Universal horror The Black Cat, which screened twice at the Gene Siskel Film Center screening in a brand new print. The inky black-and-white photography of The Black Cat looks better than ever, but if you ask me, it’s not the Ulmer film that’s most deserving of such a thorough restoration.
His 1944 horror-noir hybrid Bluebeard, which stars John Carradine as a murderous artist who paints portraits of women and subsequently strangles them once he’s finished, is readily available on DVD but in forms that range from egregiously bastardized to merely passable. The best of these can be found in a disc from All-Day Entertainment. Digitally transferred from an archival 35mm print courtesy of the Cinematheque Francaise,this version is, in fact, the complete film—bootleg versions courtesy of Roan Group Archival Entertainment and other such outlets are spliced to hell—but the sound isn’t quite right and the transfer is poor, giving the film a darker look than Ulmer intended
I realize that might seem like a nitpicky critique given Ulmer’s highly expressionistic style. Bluebeard does indeed benefit for a healthy dose of shadows, but it’s the elements of the frame that Ulmer baths in light that suffer the most from this lack of contrast. In particular, the film’s masterfully composed flashback sequence, which Dave Kehr suggests might be “the last full flowering of hard-core expressionism,” appears to suffer from a lack of grain and is certainly devoid of the sort of texture I’ve seen in actual 35 mm prints of Ulmer’s work.
In addition to Bluebeard, the Cinematheque Francaise possesses a number of Ulmer’s 1940s PRC quickies in addition to some of his Yiddish-language films, including The Singing Blacksmith. I’d love to see a retrospective of his work, with each print given the same attention as The Black Cat.