Francois Truffaut was one of cinema’s key filmmakers and one of its key students and critics. He had already showed off that first hat with The 400 Blows, Shoot the Piano Player, Jules and Jim, and Fahrenheit 451 and the second and third ones with his work for Cahiers du Cinema, in which he posited the auteur theory, by the time he made The Bride Wore Black in 1967. Here Truffaut’s art and his obsession with the art of another—namely Alfred Hitchcock—gel in a film that begins as winking homage before developing into something more personal.
When The Bride Wore Black (based on a novel by William Irish, who also wrote “It Had to Be Murder”, which Hitch adapted into Rear Window) begins by showing generally mundane images set to Bernard Herrmann’s overwhelming and overwhelmingly recognizable score, it’s as if Truffaut is trying to shove a signifier of Hitchcock’s most melodramatic scenes into scenes nearly devoid of melodrama despite the fact that the woman on screen tries to kill herself at one point.
That woman is Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau), who soon sets about her own obsessive mission by insinuating herself into the lives of various men and killing them. Her motive remains a mystery for a quarter of the film, but since the title of the movie is The Bride Wore Black, I don’t feel like I’m spoiling too much by saying she’s on a mission of revenge against the creeps she blames for her groom’s death.
While Truffaut seems to drop clues about his movies’ apparent main influence (we see such locations of iconic Hitchcock scenes as a schoolyard, a speeding train, and a concert hall), Julie differs from the mass of Hitch’s charming main characters because she is a husk (it is telling that she shares a surname with the similarly emotion-drained title character of Shoot the Piano Player). She carries on with her grim mission devoid of emotion, something that could not be said of even sketchy characters like Norman Bates and Marnie Edgar. This means The Bride Wore Black is not as fun to watch as your average Hitchcock movie, but maybe revenge, murder, and soul-destroying grief are not supposed to be fun (or maybe they are—just see how Quentin Tarantino reshaped this movie’s premise into Kill Bill). It is, however, a suspense film worthy of the master when obstacles such as an unexpected visit from a redheaded model, a sweet little boy, and even the possibility that she may have found a new love fall into Julie’s vengeful path. These are the film’s most powerful moments.
I’ve been wanting to see The Bride Wore Black ever since I saw Kill Bill ten years ago. It’s finally available on blu-ray via Twilight Time, and in a beautiful transfer with strong blacks, strong color (though this is not a strikingly colorful movie), and strong grain. Supplementing the film (presented in both subtitled and English dubbed versions—the dubbed one contains different musical cues) is a commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman and Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith. Smith’s presence puts a lot of the focus on the score, and he discusses the clashes between Hermann and Truffaut over the director’s choices in this film—as well as Herrmann’s clashed with Hitchcock. Kirgo tries to pull the focus away from Hitchcock, whose influence she does not see as strongly in the film as a lot of other commentators do, and discusses the more meaningful role gender dynamics play in the film. There is also a supplementary CD featuring a 79-minute interview with Bernard Herrmann that spotlights the composer’s short temper. The blu-ray disc’s isolated score track spotlights his art.
Get The Bride Wore Black on Screenarchives.com here.