François Truffaut's Hitchcock homage gets a spiffy re-release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics thanks to a transfer that looks slightly more vibrant and crisp than its 2015 Twilight Time counterpart. The neo-noir revenge tale about a widowed bride intent on bumping off the men responsible for her husband's death doesn't quite hang together, but it contains a magnetic performance by Jeanne Moreau as the titular bride and plenty of Truffaut style. This edition drops the dubbed English-language version of the film and a couple of extras, but the improved picture quality makes it worthy of a purchase. Recommended.
After conducting a series of legendary interviews with Alfred Hitchcock that detailed and analyzed his artistry and technique, it seemed only a matter of time before French journalist turned filmmaker François Truffaut produced his own homage to the Master of Suspense. The Bride Wore Black, released just two years after the publication of Hitchcock/Truffaut, salutes Hitchcock's distinctive style, but this darkly comic neo-noir thriller about the efforts of a bitter widow to avenge the murder of her husband that occurred mere moments after the wedding ceremony pales when compared to Hitchcock's best works. Though it also pales when compared to such Truffaut classics as The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, and Day for Night, The Bride Wore Black remains a slick, entertaining, and provocative film that's more about the creepy proclivities of men than murder.
The first Hitchcock link is the material. The Bride Wore Black is adapted from a novel by William Irish, one of the pseudonyms used by Cornell Woolrich, who wrote the story upon which Hitchcock's masterwork Rear Window is based. From there, Truffaut reaches deep into Hitch's bag of tricks, employing a subjective camera, quick, staccato edits, extreme close-ups, colorful accents, and even a bit of cheesy rear projection to emulate Sir Alfred's style. He also sprinkles in moments of black humor and - in the most direct connection to Hitchcock of all - hired composer Bernard Herrmann, who supplied the music for Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho, to write the score. All these allusions heighten the film's appeal, but as I watched The Bride Wore Black recently I found it tough to shake the nagging feeling that I'd rather be settling in with a real Hitchcock movie instead.
Truffaut, intentionally or not, gives the biggest nod to Psycho. The scene early in the movie when Julie methodically lays out five stacks of French francs across her luggage mirrors the Psycho scene in which Marion (Janet Leigh) packs for her trip with a wad of stolen money on her bed. There's also the serial killer aspect of the story and a close-up of Julie screaming that calls to mind Marion's first shriek when the shadowy figure abruptly pulls back the shower curtain. Not everyone will pick up on all the references, but they make The Bride Wore Black more fun. On the flip side, they also heighten its artifice.
The main problem with The Bride Wore Black is its episodic story, which lacks a fair amount of credibility. I'm not familiar with the original novel, so can't attest to how closely the screenplay by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard follows it, but several hard-to-swallow elements make a big suspension of disbelief necessary to fully enjoy the film. The stoic nature of Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) and her resolute commitment to tracking down and executing five men she has never laid eyes on but reviles with every fiber of her being to sustain the narrative, but the myriad instances of coincidence and serendipity required for her to pull off her plan undercut it. Flashes of emotion remind us Julie is a human being, but her robotic actions lend the tale a sterility that keeps it at arm's length.
Moreau, who eerily resembles Bette Davis throughout, does her best with a one-dimensional part. She nicely embodies a woman with ice water in her veins, but that coldness freezes the audience out. Despite some brief bits of nudity and the seductive requirements of the role, Moreau's ranking on the femme fatale scale falls far below that of Barbara Stanwyck, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, and Jane Greer. Moreau is a great actress and here gets to don different guises and adopt a variety of personalities to hoodwink her prey, but none of them are particularly interesting. Just as Julie can't relate to others, we can't relate to her, and that's a big detriment for a movie that uses her as the connective tissue tying together a series of distinct, isolated vignettes. I kept waiting for Moreau to let loose and unleash Julie's inner pain, but by the time we meet her she's all cried out. As she confesses to a priest late in the film, "I'm already dead."
All the men in the movie are pigs, so their respective demises - with the possible exception of one - aren't particularly upsetting. Much like Fatal Attraction would be a cautionary tale for philandering husbands two decades later, The Bride Wore Black sticks it to drunken, promiscuous, irresponsible party boys who disrespect and objectify women. The femme fatales of the 1940s used men to secure the social and economic stature they couldn't achieve on their own, but by the late 1960s feminism was on the rise and Julie personifies a new breed of woman who rises up and takes control, consequences be damned.
She's also a far cry from the typical Hitchcock heroine, and that's one of the areas where Truffaut departs from his homage. Julie isn't a cool, sassy, but ultimately submissive blonde like Rear Window's Grace Kelly and Vertigo's Kim Novak. She's not our fantasy; she's our nightmare. Though Hitchcock reportedly liked The Bride Wore Black, it's not a film he would have made, and maybe that's why the movie's myriad Hitchcock accents sometimes feel out of place. Unfortunately, the film's reputation as a Hitchcock homage makes it difficult to view in any other context, but then again, without the Hitchcock connections, would we still be talking about The Bride Wore Black at all?
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The KLSC edition of The Bride Wore Black arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case with reversible cover art inside a sleeve. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
This appears to be the same 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that graced the 2015 Twilight Time release, but the KLSC disc has a much higher bitrate because Kino wisely dropped the dubbed English-language version of The Bride Wore Black from its release. (The KLSC bitrate hovers between 35 and 38 mbps, while the Twilight Time bitrate averages around 20 mbps.) The Kino image looks markedly more vibrant and detailed than its Twilight Time counterpart, with brighter, bolder colors (the all-important reds especially pop), better clarity and contrast, and deeper black levels. Evidence of fading still exists and mild, occasional print damage remains, but such deficiencies don't detract from the overall presentation. A couple of shots exhibit a heavy amount of grain, but the bulk of the movie exudes a natural, film-like texture. Flesh tones are true and stable, good shadow delineation keeps crush at bay, the bright whites never bloom, and sharp close-ups highlight Moreau's faint crow's feet and pouty lips and the alternately rugged and pasty complexions of Julie's victims. If you're a huge devotee of The Bride Wore Black, an upgrade might be in order, but casual fans might think the Twilight Time release suffices.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track seems identical to the DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track on the Twilight Time release. In his Bonus View review of the Twilight Time release, my former colleague Josh Zyber described it as "clear but thin...with little to distinguish itself." That sums up my impression, too. My main complaint is the lack of fidelity, which really inhibits the power, depth, and presence of Bernard Herrmann's score. While sonic accents like the screechy wheels of a train, a roaring jet engine, crackling thunder, a jarring scream, and gunshots and subtleties like footsteps, chirping birds, rain, and wind are all crisply rendered, the music sounds annoyingly flat. If you're able to understand French, I'm sure all the dialogue is easy to comprehend, and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude.
Only the audio commentary and trailer from the 2015 Twilight Time release have been ported over to this KLSC edition. Gone are the dubbed English-language version of the film, the isolated audio and effects track (a Twilight Time staple), and the separate CD that contained a 79-minute audio interview with composer Bernard Herrmann from 1970.
Audio Commentary - Film historians Julie Kirgo, Steven C. Smith, and the late, great Nick Redman recorded this lively, informative, and absorbing commentary in 2015 for the Twilight Time release. Smith and Kirgo dominate the track and animatedly discuss such topics as the behind-the-scenes squabbling that plagued the production, Truffaut's close relationship with Moreau, the influence of French director Jean Renoir on the film, the connection between The Bride Wore Black and Hitchcock's Marnie, and Truffaut's career, influence, legacy, and mixed feelings about The Bride Wore Black. Smith wrote a book about composer Bernard Herrmann, so there's a lot of talk about the music and Herrmann's displeasure about how his score was treated by Truffaut. Smith and Kirgo also refute the idea that The Bride Wore Black is little more than a Hitchcock homage. Because this commentary was recorded for the Twilight Time release, there are references to the dubbed English-language version of the film, the isolated audio track, a bonus CD, and an accompanying booklet with an essay by Kirgo, none of which are included in Kino's edition.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - In addition to the film's original preview, a slew of trailers for other foreign-language KLSC releases are included.
Kino's reissue of The Bride Wore Black improves upon the 2015 Twilight Time release, offering up a more vibrant, sharper picture that better serves this darkly comic Hitchcock homage. Jeanne Moreau's pouty performance as a vengeful femme fatale carries François Truffaut's episodic neo-noir that brims with style, but is riddled with plot holes. Though Kino does not import all the extras, this edition is worth an upgrade for those who really revere this French classic. Recommended.