Monday, August 26, 2019

Truffaut's Homage to Hitchcock: The Bride Wore Black

Jeanne Moreau as Julie.
French director and critic Francois Truffaut originally published his extensive Alfred Hitchcock interviews in 1966. The book, which has come to be known as Hitchcock/Truffaut, is a brilliant look into the mind of a master filmmaker. So, it comes as no surprise that Truffaut would eventually make a film that pays tribute to Hitchcock's themes and style.

The Bride Wore Black (1968) looks and sounds like a Hitch picture. It was based on a 1940 novel by Cornell Woolrich, who also penned the short story that inspired Rear Window. The film's tense score was composed by Hitchcock's longtime collaborator Bernard Herrmann.

Julie and her victim on the balcony.
It opens with Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) bidding farewell to her young niece at a train station...only to pass through the train and depart in another direction. She then tries to see a man named Bliss, but his building attendant will not allow her into the man's apartment. Later, when Bliss is hosting a party with his fiancee, Julie appears in a white evening gown. She lures Bliss onto a balcony to flirt mysteriously with him. When she apparently loses her scarf in the breeze, it catches on a tree branch near the railing. She asks Bliss to retrieve it for her and, as he precariously straddles the railing, Julie pushes him off the balcony to his death. She then quickly and silently exits the party.

Julie and a glass of poison.
On a train to her next destination, Julie opens a small black book and crosses off one of five mens' names. Her goal, it appears, is to murder each of them.

The motive behind Julie Kolher's vendetta isn't revealed until less an hour remains in the film's 107-minutes running time. The big reveal isn't particularly surprising, but that's not a detriment to The Bride Wore Black. In Hitchcock lingo, the reason why Julie commits the murders is the film's "McGuffin." In other words, her motive propels the plot, but really serves no other purpose. The Bride Wore Black is an exercise in style, with each murder comprising a mini-narrative.

Michael Lonsdale as the father.
The best scene has Julie infiltrating a household by posing as the five-year-old son's kindergarten teacher. By quizzing the child earlier in the day, she knows just enough to pull off the ruse. The child, of course, states that Julie is not his teacher multiple times. But she laughs it off and the father doesn't take his son seriously. It makes sense, of course, to believe an adult over a child. The father, whose wife has been called out of town on an emergency (thanks to Julie), also becomes interested in the attractive woman who is suddenly alone with him once his son goes to bed.

Indeed, Julie's most powerful weapon in her revenge scheme is her allure. Four of her five targets are drawn to her out of lust, loneliness, or perhaps even love. In The Bride Wore Black, the males are most certainly the weaker sex.

As Hitchcock did in Marnie (1964), Truffaut uses color and lighting to create contrasts. Moreau, whose character is a victim as well as a killer, wears only black or white outfits during the entire film. Her first murder takes place on a bright, sunny day whereas her third murder occurs during a dark thunderstorm. The Bride Wore Black was only Truffaut's second color film and he had numerous on-set altercations with cinematographer Raoul Coutard on how to light the film. Their disagreements became so numerous that Moreau has stated that she was forced to direct some of the scenes.
An arrow protrudes from the back of Julie's fourth victim.
It's still uniquely a Truffaut film, even if it lacks the warmth associated with his most celebrated works. I am sure I'm in the minority, but having viewed it twice now, it may be my favorite Truffaut film despite its flaws (I wish Julie's motive was revealed later in the film). Incidentally, if the plot reminds you of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, you are not alone--though Tarantino claims to have never seen The Bride Wore Black.

The plot closely follows Cornell Wooldrich's novel, though Truffaut changes the ending. In fact, it's one of my all-time favorite film endings and cleverly explains what seems like two horrible mistakes on Julie's part. There are many Hitchcockian films, but none quite like The Bride Wore Black. It pays tribute to the Master of Suspense, but never stoops to imitation as the bride efficiently eliminates the men who shattered her dreams of happiness.

This review is part of the Vive La France Blogathon hosted by The Lady Eve's Reel Life and Silver Screen Modes. Click here to check out all the marvelous posts in this blogathon. Below is a scene from The Bride Wore Black, courtesy of our YouTube channel:


  1. I would rank this as my favorite FT film also. The T/H book is a must read for any serious film lover. Excellent choice and post.

  2. I liked The Bride Wore Black very much on first viewing - many eons ago, it seems - its emulation of Hitchcock, Jeanne Moreau in a fits-like-a-glove role. So when I watched it a second time and wasn't as taken with it I was a bit surprised. In the end, it is Day for Night that I return to most often.

    Wonderful write-up, Rick, and thank you for joining in on the blogathon.

  3. It took me two viewings to appreciate this. If it is not a comedy, I seem to have difficulty with French films. Never their pastry or wine, just their darker movies.

  4. Excellent review Rick. I'm a fan of Cornell Woolrich, Truffaut, and Hitchcock, so this film is right up my alley too. And of course Jeanne Moreau is such an outstanding actress.Thank you for selecting this film for the Vive la France blogathon and thank you for participating!

  5. I must see this film. You've made it sound so intriguing, and I loved the clip you posted. Thanks!

  6. In another life I went on a Truffaut binge without really appreciating the films. Probably, it was just the cool thong to do. I think it's time to turn a more appreciative and discerning eye towards them once more. Your post is inspiring me to re-visit this film. Your article is thoughtful and insightful.

  7. I've heard of this title many times, but never took the time to watch the film. Great review Rick, you really hooked me!

  8. This is a fascinating work and I think the top photo really captures the flavor of the film as Julie no longer can see life clearly because of her grief.

  9. This is a very good film, and reading so much praise makes me want to refresh my memory and rewatch it. Great review of a Hitchcockian classic made by Truffaut.
    I'm inviting you to my blogathon. Feel free to participate as a blogger or reader: