Sometimes, a marriage starts out all sunshine and rainbows, only to turn sour after years or even decades. Sometimes, it’s doomed from the start.
For Henri Landru (George Sanders), it’s all doom and gloom, but he only has himself to blame. Obsessed with a burlesque performer named Odette (Corinne Calvet), Henri can only win her over by showering her with cash and lavish gifts.
There’s one small problem: he’s an antiques dealer, but not a terribly successful one. He struggles to come up with the money Odette asks for, which she’ll supposedly use to pay her mother’s medical bills. (In reality, she’s scheming with her actual boyfriend to take Henri for all he’s worth.)
Opportunity presents itself to Henri when he meets a once-wealthy woman, sort of down on her luck, looking to sell some of her antique furniture. When their deal goes sour, he kills her in a fit of rage… but then sells the furniture anyway, making a hefty sum of cash.
So begins this tale of infatuation, antiques, and serial-killing! Realizing just what he’s done, and what success he’s had with it, Henri opts to continue courting wealthy women and then killing them for their antiques.
This is the crazy plot of Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons (1960), written by Myles Wilder and directed by W. Lee Wilder. The film was inspired by a real criminal named Henri Landru, a French serial killer dubbed “The Bluebeard of Gambais.”
Compared to other marital thrillers, this film is somewhat unusual. It isn’t a story of a husband plotting to kill his wife, or a wife plotting to kill her husband, or a man plotting to kill his lover’s husband.
Instead, it’s a serial killer chiller with a twist: the murderous man marries (or at least becomes engaged to) each and every one of his victims, luring them in for the sole purpose of his own financial gain, with feelings for none but Odette.
Odette: “How did you get all of that money?”
Henri: “I, uh… made a killing.”
Henri’s terrible cause is furthered along by the fact that he’s easily able to find the perfect venue for his crimes. In a very morbid twist, he rents a country house, which conveniently comes equipped with a large fire-burning stove, used by the previous owner after hunting trips. Henri uses it to burn the evidence of his own killings, taking his victims to the country house and convincing them that they’re headed off to honeymoon with a wealthy diplomat, rather than headed to the grave.
When we first meet Henri, he’s obsessively staring at a woman’s legs through a window and then proceeds to follow her when she leaves the building, so we know from the get-go that he’s a creep.
But, there’s a brilliance in the casting of George Sanders. Though we have a clue from the film’s first scene that something’s off about him, it’s also easy to see why the women fall for Henri. All they see is a smooth-talking, impressively knowledgeable, attentive conversationalist.
There are only two women on whom Henri’s charms seem to have no lasting effect: Odette, Henri’s beloved burlesque gal, and Giselle (Ingrid Hafner), the sister of Henri’s first victim. Odette, like Henri, was only in it for the money; she played him, just like he played his victims. Giselle, on the other hand, is a brave and persistent young woman. Unwilling to accept the official story that her sister died by suicide, she ultimately outsmarts Henri and uncovers the truth, with her actions leading to the downfall of his criminal scheme.
It’s worth noting that the involvement of Giselle in cracking the case is partially based in fact. For the real Henri Landru, it was the sister of the eighth victim that convinced police to investigate and eventually arrest him.
No one could play high-class evil like Sanders, making him the perfect choice for the role, both in his chilling confrontation with Giselle and in his less-sinister moments. Who else could have a twinkle in his eye and an air of sophistication while meticulously keeping record of his victims, his expenses in wooing them, and his profits from killing them, making note of it all in a pocket-sized notebook? Who else could tell his victims just after meeting them, “This may be a fortunate day for both of us,” simultaneously sending them swooning and sending chills down the spine of the viewer?
Those old, familiar marriage vows promise a commitment “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death us do part.” For Henri, the promise of marriage is more of a “for a couple of days, for me to become richer, ’til I kill you and give all of your jewelry to Odette.” Bluebeard’s Ten Honeymoons brings Henri’s twisted take on marriage to life several times over, in a film with a decent dose of suspense and a whole lot of style.