BR: Bride Wore Black, The (1968)

July 2, 2015 | By


BrideWoreBlack_BRFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Near-Perfect

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  January 20, 2015

Genre:  Thriller / French Giallo

Synopsis: A virginal widow mercilessly hunts down the men responsible for the death of her husband, killing each without hesitation or any emotion.

Special Features:  

Disc 1: Audio Commentary with film historian Julie Kirgo, Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith, and producer Nick Redman / Isolated mono music & effects track / Theatrical Trailer.

Disc 2: CD featuring previously unreleased 1970 audio interview with composer Bernard Herrmann for the Los Angeles Free Press.

8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.





It’s interesting to compare the theatrical trailer to Francois Truffaut’s film adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s story about a vengeful widow knocking off the men responsible for the murder of her husband, literally hours after the couple took their vows.

The trailer, with sportier music, emphasizes the bodycount aspect of the narrative, whereas in actuality, Truffaut’s film is really a series of expanding character pieces that gradually build towards a climax where doubt settles within the audience – Will she kill the artist who genuinely seems decent? – and within widow / huntress Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau), whose very name, as pronounced in the film, is a play on “cholere,” the French word for rage.

Not unlike Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher (1970), Bride is largely described as Truffaut’s overt homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the ultimate tribute in form and style of the Master of Suspense, whom Truffaut showcased in what’s still regarded as the definitive profile on the director, the 1967 black-bound tome Hitchcock Truffaut, and yet as film historian Julie Kirgo asserts in the Blu-ray’s lively and highly informative commentary track (and one of Kirgo’s best), Truffaut’s film is more of a Jean Renoir take on flawed characters trapped within a Hitchcockian container.

Aside from Truffaut engaging longtime Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann, whose music echoes more than a bit of Marnie (1964); using tracking shots of walking and twisting legs, moving feet, and striking facial close-ups; and fixating on the minutia of characters observing and processing clues, what evolves within Bride are character backgrounds that add more sympathy to the gang of men who gathered one afternoon for drinks but fled after the most thuggish member shot dead Kohler’s soul mate. Kohler remains ruthless to the end, but there are moments where she wrestles with her mission, and uses grief and rage to shore up her determination to see the goal of murdering five men to the end.

In a Hitchcock film, character moments are limited by an imposed structure that always keeps the film moving, often towards a murder sequence, a silent sequence of suspicion (following, tracking, observing, snooping, escaping), or an elaborate chase. Hitchcock shaped stories often sourced from novels and short stories into personalized, recognizable narratives with common elements; in Bride, Truffaut does echo aspects of the Hitchcockian formula, but he creates deeper, more resonant conflicts and internal struggles which are given more screen time.

The perfect example resides in lonely bachelor Coral (Michel Bouquet), whom Kohler woos quite successfully in spite of showing zero warmth. When he’s in his final death throes on the rug, Kohler observes with utter indifference from a seated position as the poison robs him of motion, coherence, breath, and life. It’s a remarkably chilling sequence which forms the finale to a prior death ballet in which Truffaut uses striking lap dissolves as Kohler dances for Coral to her favourite tune while poisoned Arak heads towards his brain.

The scene feels contemporary in its coldness, but it’s also poetic, because Truffaut doesn’t exploit the murder as a thrilling sequence, something more typical in a Hitchcock film; murder in Psycho (1960) may be inherent to the plot and crises of characters, but it’s also the raison d’etre of a Hitchcock film, since a death, whether fast or prolonged, is the thrill point – a quality that’s standard in the work of giallo maestro Dario Argento.

For example, if the opening and closing murders within Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much were excised or reduced to static or severely compressed montages, you’d still have a colourful suspense film with bouts of dark humour. If the deaths were similarly trimmed from Bride, what remains is a woman’s intimate quest for revenge, with a deeper drama that’s still vibrant and affecting because of the way Truffaut choreographs the dances between prey and the hawkish Kohler.

The only moments of lightness within Bride come in a sequence involving a child who occasionally turns towards the camera with a curious visage as he’s dragged home by his mother. Its playfulness comes in the form of the child breaking cinema’s fourth wall and almost winking at the audience, plus Herrmann’s lovely music that brings a rare warmth to the film. Kohler smiles only when she’s performing a role with someone other than a victim, hence her rare playfulness in a game of hide-and-seek with the boy, and when chatting with Coral’s landlady.

Kirgo also points out the near lack of humour within Bride, and that may be a key reason for the film being a little challenging for those weaned on and expecting a more formal echo of a Hithcockian thriller. The slight humour in Bride comes from the fussiness, dismissive nature, and arrogance of the men, but things change when Kohler meets artist Fergus (Charles Denner). Not unlike the eponymous character in Marnie – a frigid, traumatized habitual thief and impersonator – Kohler stays too long with her mark, living out the man’s fantasy girl role until the original goal blurs.

Just as Mark Rutland observes and assesses how he can control Marnie as a secretary and later wife, Fergus seemingly prolongs the posing sessions, engaging in what’s perceived as an above-normal amount of sketches where Kohler is dressed as Diana the Huntress. Kohler almost loses her will (if not her aim) to get back on track to the killing spree, and just as Marnie is introduced to a former employer from whom she absconded with cash, Kohler is introduced to the best friend of a man she shoved off a balcony. The interaction between both women and the suspicious men results in the same level of tension, and major quandary: after being unmasked, can Kohler / Marnie escape with a hasty bluff?

Just as Marnie becomes Mark’s wife and is seen by a wide variety of associates and friends, Kohler is feted as Fergus’ most significant discovery; Kohler’s momentary loss of focus further endangers her status because Fergus’ obsession has yielded too much visual evidence to accrue in the preliminary sketches that blossom to both a formal painting, and an erotic full-body portrait splayed beside his bed.

The one-sided romance, in which Fergus becomes obsessed with his cold subject, is also a great filmmaker cheat: Kohler maintains the perfect chilly temperature that disallows any involvement with men, but she still entices them, offering them a mystique that’s repeatedly and erroneously perceived as demure; in their naïve eyes, if they hang around long enough, wine & dine, impress, and reveal enough of their own intimacies, they hope her mask will drop, and she’ll become more humane, and theirs alone.

Now, it’s almost impossible to scribble a few paragraphs on a Hitchcock film, which makes assessing this echo of his work through the mind of a French New Wave master equally challenging, in terms of being brief and succinct, but it’s to the credit of Kirgo and Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith that so much of both directors, composer, the cast, and assorted themes and directorial techniques are discussed at length. Moderator Nick Redman is largely silent because he knows what he’s assembled are two historians with deep personal attachments to many aspects of the people involved in Bride’s creation, but the commentary goes beyond mere directorial aesthetics.

Herrmann certainly gets time, and fans will be delighted by the bio material as well as details on the cues not used or edited down by Truffaut in a film the director reportedly dismissed in later years – a wrong choice, since Bride is an extremely accomplished, haunting film which shouldn’t be shrugged off like the work of a fan boy who moved on to more personal works.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray includes the French version accompanied by an isolated mono music and effects track, and the English dub version with reportedly different music edits. Redman points out that a recent search for any surviving music stems proved unsuccessful, hence the value in Smith’s descriptions of dropped themes and material replaced by source material.

MGM’s HD transfer is very nice – the details are sharp, the colours vivid yet never overpowering – and flatters the modernist elements inherent to certain locations, especially the first murder at a half-round apartment complex with marble-lined columns and floor, large glass doors and steel trim typical of sixties architecture. Even a shot of a passing jetliner feels sleek, as the vessel veers across the sky like a big shiny bullet, its undercarriage almost glowing from the bright Mediterranean sunshine in Truffaut’s unnamed city.

The sound mix is fine, and the isolated score track will suffice until perhaps one day the entire score is re-recorded in full, providing an example of Herrmann’s original take on the film. What’s especially satisfying about Smith and Kirgo’s commentary is their sober stance on the positioning of the film’s musical elements: both composer and director were right in their creative choices, and yet there were compromises that may have seemed sound in judgment, but come off in retrospect as perhaps too drastic.

Truffaut may well have realized during editing stage that his own sensibilities needed to emerge, and while his original goal may have been to pay homage to a mentor, his own voice had to win out, hence the reduction of Herrmann’s score to an echo of a Hitchcockian soundtrack. When Herrmann’s sympathetic themes do play out in their longest formats, they are gorgeous, and add to the film’s selective use of dreamy, dizzying emotional punches.

Smith notes that Bride came at a time when Herrmann’s career was ebbing quite low, due in part to the professional breakup with Hitchcock after Torn Curtain (1966) and the composer’s own brutally honest persona which may have fractured more than a few professional relationships.

Much has been written about Herrmann’s curmudgeonly behaviour, frank missives, and unhappiness in his later years, so it’s highly illuminating to hear is own voice in a rare 79 min. audio interview conducted in 1970. Topics range from the state of film scoring, favourite composers, influences, the value of soundtrack albums vs. re-recordings, breaking with Hitchcock, and, er, trying to push The Beatles (without success) to American record labels.

There are genuine moments where the listener will face-palm, though not because Herrmann engages in profane-laden missives. The composer truly speaks him mind about what’s crap, who’s a hack, the lousiness of Hollywood, and yet beneath the fiery tone one can grasp his points: he’s never inarticulate, but a little irascible towards what he feels are dumb questions and redundant subjects.

The fact he kept two interviewers on edge speaks volumes on why seemingly any discussion with Herrmann mandated patience; for filmmakers, they needed a thick skin or a sense of humour to reach an agreement, if not an understanding. That said, there’s never a doubt that Herrmann sought to write the best music for projects he believed in, and like some of his peers, looked forward rather than backward at old works from decades before. (One section involving music rights, cheap radio stations, and producers choosing to program royalty-free content is rather timely, given the artist’s ability to earn a living today through royalties is worse.)

This is a near-perfect package for fans of both Herrmann and Truffaut, filled with contextual extras that deserve revisits. As for the BBC documentary shot while Herrmann was recording his Bride score, portions are extracted in the documentary Music from the Movies: Bernard Herrmann (1992). Perhaps one day the BBC (whichHerrmann said was always interested in conducting audio and filmed interviews of him) will release this missing link, and enable fans to enjoy the entire report on Herrmann, circa 1968, filmed while recording music under the critical eye of Truffaut.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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