The Comedy of Remarriage and ‘Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife’ (Lilja Valtonen)

Stanley Cavell discusses the dominance of a genre in American cinema he calls “the comedy of remarriage” following the advent of sound in film.[1] These films, released in the years 1934 to 1949, had a structure similar to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in centring their narratives around the troubles of marriage and divorce.[2] 1934 can be classified as the beginning of the comedy of remarriage, as it was a time where a specific group of women of a certain “age and a temperament” could usher in a new phase of feminism in film.[3] Many film stars – Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn, and Barbara Stanwyck to name a few – led films characteristic of this genre, such as It Happened One Night (1934), The Philadelphia Story (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), and the lesser-known Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), which I will talk about.

The two leads of Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper, have a charming meet-cute, the classic cornerstone of all romantic comedies. They get married, they fall out and then try to make each other’s lives as miserable as they can before eventually falling in love again and getting back together, like so many other remarriage tales of the time. While I have found other remarriage screwballs funny and entertaining, I could not grow to love this film because it was too frustrating to see the couple fight. Two people that dysfunctional together should not be together. I could not see the appeal or humour in their malice towards one another, even though I worship Claudette Colbert. Why couldn’t they just make up their minds? The comedy of remarriage may have worked after the Depression and up until the 1950’s, but for a viewer like me, I just felt manipulated by the ‘Will they, won’t they?’ dynamic.

[1] Stanley Cavell, “Introduction: Words for a Conversation,” in Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1981), 1.

[2] Ibid., 19-20.

[3] Ibid.

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