The Bride Wore Black (1968) Blu-ray Review: The Roots of ’70s Grindhouse Cinema

While it is frequently reiterated that we are unable to take it with us, it should be noted that we do manage to take some of it along into the next life. No, I’m not attempting to wax some fruity spiritualism on you here (that’s a job for those weird people handing out pamphlets in parking lots to tackle), I’m actually referring to things such as fashion and entertainment. As each craze fades out, it carries a little bit with it over into the new (usually worse) fad. In the world of music, we witnessed punk music (the real kind, kids, not pop-punk) rise and fall in the ’70s, before dissolving into two of my favorite genres: post-punk, which then gave birth to the new wave.

Similarly, in the world of film, the classic Golden Age of Hollywood formula paved the way for a period of neorealism courtesy our Italian friends, before transforming into the hugely influential Nouvelle Vague, or French New Wave. So, just as guys with studded leather jackets and stringed instruments they were lucky to play three chords on eventually transpired into men with frilly clothing and keytars, these film genres each took something with them from the previous generation. As the French New Wave began to wane in the late ’60s, it, along with other current forms of film such as the Giallo genre (again, courtesy our Italian brethren), began to transform into something as outrageous as the punk scene first was.

I refer, of course, to yet another favorite of mine, the boom in exploitation movies, many of which wound up playing at the long-gone grindhouse cinemas of Manhattan’s now-sterilized 42nd Street. During that time, audiences witnessed an array of often jaw-dropping attacks to their remaining senses that often centralizing on the age-old act of simple, bloodthirsty vengeance. While a lot of people may cite some grindhouse roughie such as Wes Craven’s original The Last House on the Left (itself an uncredited remake of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring; another example of transitioning) as a catalyst for that exploitation subgenre, I would place even money on French New Wave filmmaker François Truffaut having drew some of the first blood with that motif.

And the proof is there for all to see in his The Bride Wore Black (La Mariée était en noir) Appropriately enough, this classic 1968 offering was intended as an homage to Monsieur Truffaut’s love for the works of Alfred Hitchcock, having recently published a novel on the iconic English-born filmmaker’s work and stylings the previous year, and based on a novel by Rear Window author Cornell Woolrich. Truffaut even borrowed Hitchcock’s regular musical collaborator, the great Bernard Herrmann, to write the hypnotic, sometimes surreal score for his own tale of vengeance. Here, Jeanne Moreau (who has worked with just about every great European director in the book) stars as a chameleonic widow who sets about eliminating the five men who gunned down her beloved husband on the day of their wedding.

And truly, that is the entire story here, but Truffaut – naturally – laces every scene with a great amount of subtle detail and damaged beauty, such as the breathtaking Ms. Moreau herself. While the fire of the nurturing, caring love most men yearn for has since been extinguished, Julie Kohler (Moreau) is still able to use both her beauty and body to warm up to her intended male victims – none of whom ever take into consideration that this femme fatale also possesses a brain. All of the men in The Bride Wore Black – ranging from sympathetic artist Charles Denner to boring politician Michel (boring Moonraker villain) Lonsdale – are all pigs; slightly more civilized incarnations of the rural degenerates who would further devolve in order to degrade future grindhouse anti-heroines such as Camille Keaton in movies like I Spit on Your Grave years later.

Even the many bizarre, sometimes surrealistic aspects of the exploitation movies that would eventually follow in the wake of The Bride Wore Black can be seen in their earliest form here, from strange dialogue to an askew sense of logic. Moreau tracks down the men on her hit list (she literally has a notebook with their names written in it, which she crosses out in order) without any explanation of how she came to know their identities or locations. And it all works perfectly here; the need for any rudimentary rationalization is moot. It’s interesting to note that many future no-budget exploitation movies would use similar camera/editing techniques. But whereas in those instances it is trash, here it is art. Even the ending reminds one of a film that would have only made rounds at southern drive-in circuits.

For me, a lifelong B movie fan, it only makes The Bride Wore Black that much greater. It could very well be the quintessential grandfather of the ’70s exploitation grindhouse flick – only, much like some of our ancestors wore much classier clothing, this movie is far more artsier than its descendants. But you wouldn’t know it by seeing the American theatrical trailer that is included with this Twilight Time Blu-ray, as it actually is edited together by persons unknown in order to be promoted as a grindhouse movie! In fact, one might think it was for an entirely different film altogether if they were to see both the feature and the trailer at separate points in time. I could not believe what I was seeing there, and was delightfully shocked at the masterfully executed tactics of editorial deception put into creating this preview.

But back to the amazing feature film itself. The Bride Wore Black gets a beautiful 1080p transfer from Twilight Time here, courtesy a HD master from the folks at Fox. Every color, from Moreau’s black and white attire to the garish pastels some of the European fashions of the time bore (which would later be carried over into the ’70s), looks magnificent. As does the whole bloody affair itself (incidentally, Quentin Tarantino claimed he never saw this film prior to writing Kill Bill, which many film fans flat-out refuse to believe). Accompanying the main feature is a 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that dishes out the esoteric dialogue and alluring Bernard Herrmann score dutifully, with removable English subtitles for the film’s original French language. The release also includes an English-language version of the movie, which is not only quite unusual, but very welcomed, as classic bad dubbing always seems to make me smile.

Additional welcomed offerings begin with an audio commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo, Steven C. Smith, and Nick Redman, who are able to explore the deeper aspects of the film and its creators far better than I ever could (please re-observe how I had previously commented that I enjoy bad old school dubbing). Ms. Kirgo also writes the wonderful liner notes for this release. As with most Twilight Time releases, a separate audio track containing the movie in question’s isolated music score (with sound effects in this instance) is here. And, with these dreamy Bernard Herrmann compositions, it’s definitely worth a listen. Another great listen can be heard on the bonus CD, “Conversation Piece: An Unvarnished Chat with Bernard Herrmann.” The rare interview with the late maestro is brought to us by The Film Music Society and presents us all with the importance of being Herrmann.

The two-disc set from Twilight Time is limited to only 3,000 copies. I highly recommend this one, not only for genuine lovers of actual good film, but for those of us who love to be bad – and are curious as to how the grindhouse genre all came to pass.

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Luigi Bastardo

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