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Category:    Home > Reviews > Film Noir > Black Cinema > Horror > Thriller > Edgar G. Ulmer - The King Of The Bs (1939 - 1946/All Day Entertainment DVD double set w/Strange Woman, Moon Over Harlem & Bluebeard)

Edgar G. Ulmer - The King Of The Bs (1939 - 1946/All Day Entertainment DVD double set w/Strange Woman, Moon Over Harlem & Bluebeard)

Picture: C/C-/C Sound: C/C-/C Extras: C- Films: C/C/B

In the boxed set King of the Bs, All Day Entertainment has chosen three titles by the late director Edgar G. Ulmer that show his career range. Strange Woman (1946) was a vanity project by actress Hedy Lamarr that is considered one of the all-time bad films. Moon Over Harlem(1939) is a race film with an all-star cast that is also the only feature Ulmer ever made in 16mm. Bluebeard (1944) is likely the most important film Ulmer ever made, arriving one year after the original Val Lewton Cat People, it offers John Carradine as the title serial killer of the 15thCentury. No film had even featured such a character, unless it was a mad scientist or demonically possessed person.

Strange Woman takes place (we think) at the turn–of-the-century when a young woman (Lamarr) keeps showing up where men die. Sure, some of them assault her, while others are just plain idiots, but could it be her fault when things go wrong? Even her husband, who is as young as she, could land up dead. Are these coincidences? Is she cursed? Did she really read the script? Lamarr was red hot at the time and did this film through United Artists, read independent production, and she personally hired Ulmer because she knew him. They were friends. Oh well.

Moon Over Harlem is an all black cast film that happens to have white director Ulmer helming it. Like so many other productions of the era, the characters are stereotypical, no matter how dignified they are dressed, while the music is far more salvageable than the film or its script. It was made so shockingly cheap, and on 16mm of the time, that is somewhat remarkable for that reason, but jazz artist Sidney Bechet is the only other standout in an otherwise poor film.

Bluebeard holds up very well for its age. Besides reasons aforementioned, John Carradine is remarkable in a film that is a forerunner of so many films to follow in the Horror and Crime genre. Of course, this innovation had to take place in a B film, as Hollywood of the time could not possibly handle what was an extreme character of the time. The influence of the film surfaced as soon as Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 groundbreaker Spellbound (reviewed on Blu-ray elsewhere on this site), especially in terms of some of the music, a flashback sequence and even camera choices. This is Ulmer at his finest, a grossly under-seen classic that is not too long (71 minutes), but a key film everyone needs to see.

All three films are in black and white, as well as being full screen. The condition of these prints average out, but Moon Over Harlem has many problems. The print needs an amazing amount of work. 16mm stocks of the time were not so good, so it will always have picture limits. The sound is not in the best of shape, but both still look like they are from DVD, not VHS…. Barely. That is why it just escapes a D rating in both categories. The sound is lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono for all films, except lossy 2.0 Dolby Mono on Bluebeard, which still displays sound limitations from a problematic optical track that cannot hold it sound when it gets loud. Chunky break up occurs. The Harlem sound is a mess, and Strange Woman has its own less severe background noise and limits, but Film Chest's HD-upgraded DVD sounds and especially looks better, reviewed elsewhere on this site.

There are few extras, all of which could have fit on VHS. A brief Ulmer description in a paper gatefold inside the DVD case accompanies the Strange Woman/Moon Over Harlem double feature. Stills and a 6+ minutes piece by Ulmer's wife are on the DVD. Bluebeard offers an eight-page booklet that mostly offers the exploitation material paperwork of the time on the film, plus a few credits pertaining to the DVD. The DVD has a 12+ minutes piece on Ulmer and the film, plus stills.

Though not a necessity, this boxed set does offer a crash course on Ulmer and is among the DVDs All Day Entertainment has issued on the director. At least see Bluebeard, but enjoy what you can of the others if you get the box.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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