Before “Kill Bill,” “The Bride Wore Black”
Updated: Feb 23
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
French actress Jeanne Moreau plays Julie Kohler, the widow of a man who was shot to death on the church steps where they were married.
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“THE BRIDE WORE BLACK”
Blu-ray; 1968; Not Rated but contains violence and nudity
Best extra: Commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo, Steven C. Smith, and Nick Redman
IN 1974, Charles Bronson famously played a man fixated upon avenging a brutal attack on his wife and daughter in “Death Wish,” a blockbuster that spawned a still-ongoing series of cinematic revenge thrillers. But six years before Bronson’s killing spree, la magnifique French actress Jeanne Moreau starred as a woman with a similar fixation on deadly payback, in “The Bride Wore Black.”
Directed by the great François Truffaut (“The 400 Blows”), who had previously cast her in the love triangle classic “Jules and Jim,” Moreau plays a character named Julie Kohler. The last name is a play on both the French word “colère” and the English word “choler,” meaning anger or rage – which describes Julie’s frame of mind as she systematically tracks down and kills each of the five men on a list of those she believes destroyed her life.
Based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich (originally published under the pseudonym William Irish), who also wrote “Rear Window,” the plot unfolds unusually. The audience only gradually learns the reason Julie is exacting her murderous revenge via flashbacks and voiceovers.
The First Victim
(1-3) Julie Kohler arrives wearing a white dress for the cocktail party celebrating the engagement of Bliss (Claude Rich) and Gilberte (Michèle Viborel). (4) Julie lures Bliss onto the terrace of his elegant Côte d'Azur apartment. (5&6) She pushes him to his death and escapes.
The film opens with Julie’s mother stopping her from committing suicide, and then cuts to leaving their apartment and walking to a train station, suitcase in hand. The train carries her to various places around France, where she finds, stalks, and then murders each man on her short list, after which she blithely crosses out his name. Moreau plays Julie with panache, appeal, and a dab of humor – this is something of a dark comedy, after all – despite the cold-blooded nature of her killings. Her victims are portrayed by a wonderful group of seasoned French character actors: Michel Bouquet, Jean-Claude Brialy, Charles Denner, Michel Londsdale, and Daniel Boulanger.
This Kino Lorber 1080p Blu-ray transfer looks very good, with the color palette especially noteworthy, as Julie dresses only in black or white or both combined. Otherwise, the color is well-balanced and nicely saturated, skin tones are natural, and fine detail is always present.
The soundtrack is also fine, with Bernard Herrmann’s score often reminiscent of the work he did for Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the frequent – often ironic – insertion of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Dialogue (in French) is always clear and English subtitles are provided.
The Second Victim
(1&2) Julie attends a cello and piano concert that the second victim Robert Coral (Michel Bouquet) attended. (3-5) She entices Coral to take her to his apartment and poisons him with wine.
The one bonus feature is a joint commentary by Redmon, Smith and Kirgo, although Redmon interjects his thoughts only occasionally. Smith tends to focus on the music, as that’s his specialty, having written a biography of Herrmann. Kirgo spends a bit too much time on exposition, as she’s done on other Blu-ray commentaries. But plenty of interesting information is provided, especially regarding the friction that developed between Truffaut and Herrmann, as well as the director’s disagreements with cinematographer Raoul Coutard.
The commentators spend some time discussing whether “Bride Wore Black” is Truffaut’s homage to Alfred Hitchcock, whom the French director revered and wrote an interview book about. They also point out how “Bride” differs from the typical Hitchcock thriller: Kirgo calls Truffaut’s film “more deeply emotional” and notes it has “no real suspense.” Kirgo also relates that this was the first time Truffaut and Coutard worked on a color film together, and their arguments had much to do with the style of the cinematography.
Truffaut was very close friends with Moreau, who was 40 at the time, and he “wanted the film to be a tribute to her.” The director was unhappy with what he believed was the unflattering way Coutard filmed her, making her appear “tired.” Smith stresses how displeased Herrmann was with Truffaut’s editing of the score, replacing many of his musical cues with other melodies, like the Mendelssohn, or just with silence.
Truffaut, quotes Smith, “wanted the film to be dreamlike” … to be “about love without love scenes.” Kirgo comments on Moreau’s black and white wardrobe, explaining that black represented her widowhood, while the white suggested her virginity. Kirgo notes the use of the color red throughout the film, as a device to suggest violence without showing much of it onscreen. And she points out Truffaut’s use of children in his films, and how – as with the little boy “Cookie” in “Bride” – he always made them significant.
This may remind some of Quentin Tarantino’s "Kill Bill" movies, starring Uma Thurman as a bride, with a hit list of her own, except with much less gore. Truffaut, says Smith, saw “The Bride Wore Black” as a “grownup fairytale.” Since Woolrich’s novel was set in America, Truffaut chose locations in France that were “not readily identifiable.” Years later, Truffaut claimed he wished he hadn’t made the film because he “felt bad about its message of revenge.” Even so, “The Bride Wore Black” proved to be a great success, with both critics and audiences.
— Peggy Earle
(1) During the final flashback reveal of Julie's motives for the five murders, we go back to her wedding day. Five men playing cards in a high-rise start fooling around with a rifle. (2) The church where Julie has just gotten married and is leaving the church with her new husband is just across from the high-rise. (3) One of the men aims the rifle at the couple, in jest -- but it fires -- instantly killing Julie's husband.
The Final Victim
(1) Julie confesses her crimes to a priest but, despite his pleas for her to stop, she remains unrepentant and determined to finish her murderous spree. (2&3) To get close to her final victim, an artist named Fergus (Charles Denner), Julie poses for him as the mythical huntress, Diana. (4) Having disposed of Fergus, Julie shows up at his funeral.