Release Date(s)1968 (February 14, 2023)
Studio(s)United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Great directors sometimes strongly dislike even the best of their films. Paul Schrader, for one, had such a nightmarish experience trying to direct Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, and Yaphet Kotto on Blue Collar (1978) that it sullied his perception of that brilliant work. Likewise, director François Truffaut reportedly clashed with cinematographer Raoul Coutard on The Bride Wore Black (La Mariée était en noir, 1968) to such a degree—including day-long shouting matches during shooting, star Jeanne Moreau taking over some of the direction of the actors—that Truffaut came to regard it as one of his worst films.
He was, of course, wrong in that assessment. The Bride Wore Black, a clever homage to Alfred Hitchcock, is one of his most memorable, as well as most approachable and entertaining for those with an aversion to foreign language films. Indeed, the U.S. coming attractions trailer included on Kino’s new Blu-ray amusingly sells the picture as if it were a mainstream Hollywood thriller, something like a Charles Bronson potboiler.
No doubt Truffaut was inspired to make the film following his week-long series of interviews with Hitchcock in 1962, which resulted in the landmark book Hitchcock/Truffaut, first published in 1966. The film is based on Cornell Woolrich’s 1940 novel of the same name, the author also the source of Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), and Truffaut utilized Hitch’s most frequent music collaborator, composer Bernard Herrmann.
The Bride Wore Black is a thriller but also something of a puzzle film, not far removed from the Italian giallo that would soon follow. Julie (Jeanne Moreau) attempts suicide by leaping from her apartment window but is saved by her mother. Soon after, she leaves for a long, mysterious trip. She turns up at a prenuptials party for inveterate ladies’ man Bliss (Claude Rich), whom she lures out onto a balcony and pushes off the high-rise building, killing him. Later, she sends theater tickets to another stranger, Coral (Michel Bouquet), a lonely, shy bachelor, who’s thrilled such a beautiful woman would find him attractive. At his apartment she fatally poisons him with a bottle of Arak Razzouk. Interspersed with all this are flashbacks to Julie’s wedding day, in which her husband, David (Serge Rousseau), unaccountably is shot dead just as the wedding party is leaving the church.
So, what’s going on here? That aspect of the film isn’t hard to figure out, but the script by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard is so expertly constructed it hardly matters. Where director Brian De Palma’s Hitchcockian films are generally imitative and built around showy set pieces, Truffaut understands the more basic components of Hitchcock’s peerless story and scene construction, manipulating and maintaining the audience’s interest in like-minded fashion and predominantly visually, if without the Hollywood studio polish that enabled Hitchcock complete control over every aspect of his productions.
Truffaut’s approach to the material is clever in myriad ways. Bliss, the first of the five men Julie targets is instantly unlikable, a #MeToo-like predator that “deserves” his shocking murder. But painfully shy Coral is diametrically Bliss’s opposite, with an almost childlike innocence; for his Big Date with Julie, he rearranges the posters thumbtacked to his walls, and later calls her his “fairy princess.” His murder is painful to watch, which in turn throws Truffaut’s audience off-balance while heightening the mystery of Julie’s killings. (Further, Julie’s disparate targets is each very different from all of the others, presenting different challenges for the protagonist each time.) Like Hitchcock, Truffaut’s film injects moments of humor between all of the mayhem: a cleaning lady at Coral’s apartment steals swigs from his bottle of gin, hidden in the closet. She replenishes its contents with some tap water, and later we see Coral sneak a swig himself and carefully mark the bottle. When he later offers Julie some of this watered-down gin, he admits “It isn’t very good.”
Jeanne Moreau, pushing 40 and her youthful beauty spent, nonetheless is, as she was in Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight, somehow incredibly alluring and completely dominates not just the men but also the women and children she encounters with her almost indescribable tight-lipped single-mindedness. She’s like an emphatically French variation of Hitchcock’s icy blondes and while the film isn’t exactly feminist it reflects Truffaut’s greater empathy toward female characters, though an equal part of that (at least) is because of Moreau’s superb, enigmatic performance.
Twilight Time first released The Bride Wore Black on Blu-ray in 2015; that Limited Edition quickly sold out. This new release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics appears to source the same decent but older MGM video transfer. (Their prior logo, from the 2000s-2010s is at the head.) The 1.66:1 widescreen image is perfectly adequate, with decent clarity and accurate color and contrast, though with room for improvement here and there, particularly in terms of very minor age-related damage and audio issues. The 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio (in French with optional English subtitles) has some mild distortion issues during the main and end titles (the music/effects track seems to be mixed too low besides), but is fine otherwise during the feature in-between.
Extra features are light on this release and all are repurposed from the earlier Twilight Time release, so considering Radiance Films’ new announcement of a Region B release of the film crammed with new special features, those looking for that type material may want to hold off until that release. Here, besides the aforementioned trailer (window-boxed and full-frame, derived from an old transfer), Twilight Time’s audio commentary has been included, featuring Julie Kirgo, Steven C. Smith, and the late Nick Redman. Not included from are the English-dubbed version, booklet with liner notes by Kirgo, and the bonus CD that featured an archival conversation with Bernard Herrmann. Conversely, the bitrate of the Kino Blu-ray is a bit better, though the difference visually is imperceptible. Trailers for related features also available from Kino are included.
The making of The Bride Wore Black may have traumatized its director, but the final result is one of Truffaut’s most accessible and memorable. Highly Recommended.
- Stuart Galbraith IV