on May 14, 2004
If the willingness to take risks is the mark of a great artist -- and I believe it is -- then Monsieur Verdoux is one of Charles Chaplin's greatest films. And amidst all the controversy stirred by his portrayal of a serial wife killer, it's easy to forget that it's also a hilarious black comedy with plenty of sharp lines that would have succeeded even without its sociological message.
Chaplin's ability as an actor is pushed to a new level on this film through his portrayal of a morally ambiguous, unscrupulous ex-bank clerk who has no qualms about putting a body into an incinerator in his backyard. While much has been said about this film's break with Chaplin's Little Tramp character, careful examination reveals that Henri Verdoux is just a logical, and daring, advancement in the character: The more devilish, sometimes sadistic sides of the Little Tramp taken to their inevitable conclusion, where comic mischief crosses over the line to villainy. And it's highly compelling, the perfect foil to Chaplin's most heartwarming films (eg. City Lights and Modern Times), allowing Chaplin to express an insidiousness hitherto unexplored. Martha Raye nearly steals the show as the airheaded, supernaturally unkillable Mme. Bonheur (the name itself means "happiness"), and Marilyn Nash is winning as the Belgian derelict who inspires a spark of compassion in Verdoux. The conclusion of this character relationship is one of Chaplin's most complex writing feats: Imagine the ending of City Lights twisted into a dark, steely, uncompromising version of itself.
There are certain moments when the film does threaten to fall into self-involvement -- in his later years, Chaplin did let his ego take ahold of his work -- but in the case of Monsieur Verdoux, he uses this larger-than-life persona so well, and it fits the character so snugly, that the ego becomes an advantage and adds to the depth of the character. And the script has none of the self-conscious mix of silent film and talkies that plagued The Great Dictator; Chaplin had grown quite well into dialogue writing, allowing him to formulate moments of murderous irony that are cuttingly funny. ("Don't pull the cat's tail...") I have no problems with the ending speeches in this film as I did with the final speech of The Great Dictator: In the context of this story, they fit in quite well. Verdoux at the end is a man who has given up all hope, and he seems to mock his own fate and character while unmercifully unveiling his anger at the world. The speeches are not meant to be taken for face value, and I find them thought-provoking and fascinating rather than moralistic or self-important.
I first saw this film at Symphony Space in New York City and the audience was laughing so hard it was in tears. With modern audiences generally less inclined to judge a film by its "moral standing" (Kill Bill, anyone?), Monsieur Verdoux can be seen for what it is: A hilarious, complex sociological examination which identifies social ills while at the same time taking part in it. In that, it is unique in the Chaplin canon and deserves to rank among his most important films.
A quick note about this DVD edition: For some reason, the bonus materials for this film are far less numerous than on the other DVDs in this series -- hence the single-disc package and lower price. By the standards of this series of reissues, the DVD materials are really quite scant -- a useful yet brief half-hour documentary featuring good insight from director Claude Chabrol, a trailer, some storyboards. The picture and sound are of good quality, however, and the film is one to own. Highly recommended.
In his autobiography, Charlie Chaplin called "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) "the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made." Though not without its faults, this sardonic black comedy remains his best foray into sound. Chaplin's detailed performance as the business-minded Bluebeard is a masterpiece of screen acting. However, the supporting cast ranges from excellent (Martha Raye) to amateurish (Marilyn Nash) while the final minutes get bogged down in endless talk. Chaplin later admitted that "Monsieur Verdoux" could have used a bit more pantomime and less dialogue. Still, it's a thought-provoking and hard-hitting film. Henri Verdoux and the Little Tramp have much in common.
on June 19, 2000
Monsieur Verdoux is Chaplin's unsung masterpiece. A very dry film, it lives in the shadow of the much broader 'The Great Dictator'. The humor is subtle (the Martha Raye scenes aside) and one has to think to get it. Example: Verdoux is tending to his rose bushes while the incinerator is finishing up one of his wives in the background. He's just murdered a woman yet he refuses to step on a little catepillar. In picking it up and moving it to safety, he becomes very squemish at touching the little creature! This character is as far away from the Little Tramp as one can get. They are the same though; both long for love however, Verdoux uses love to his 'business' advantage whereas 'Charlie' was ususally scorned by it. This is his best written talky (any viewer of the over preachy 'Limelight' would concur) while it looks technically cheap at times (a not too uncommon area of some of his later productions). Such criticism is small though and the 'speech' at the end fits well into the narrative, not to mention that with the passing of over five decades....it still makes sense. Chaplin should be commended for putting out such a daring film at a time where America didn't want to hear such things. Not for everyones tastes but still a film that should not be ignored.
He is an icon.
Charlie Chaplin, the British comedian known for winning legions of fans through his character, "The Tramp" and one of the most important figures in cinema history.
While Charlie Chaplin will forever be a legend known for wonderful film such as "City Lights", "The Gold Rush", "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator" to name a few. His life reads like a rags-to-riches story as a child born into poverty and hardship and would become a performer at a young age and eventually become scouted by the film industry and making his first appearance in film in 1914 for Keystone Studios.
The actor would eventually move on to do work for studios such as Essanay, Mutual and First National corporations and would become one of the most successful men in the world by 1918. And in 1919, in order to gain complete control of his films, Chaplin along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith would create the American film studio known as United Artist.
And as Charlie Chaplin would survive the transition from silent to talkie in the 1930′s. It's the 1940′s that would prove to be detrimental for Charlie Chaplin. It began with an actress named Joan Barry accusing Chaplin that she was pregnant with his baby. Because Chaplin has had several divorces, media portrayed him as a womanizer.
While working on his latest film "Monsieur Verdoux", because he would not renounce his British citizenship and was speaking favorably to open a Second Front to help the Soviets and support Soviet-American friendship groups. Because he socialized with Hanns Eisler and Bertolt Brecht and also attended functions of Soviet diplomats in the U.S., he was accused of being communist and branded a threat to national security. Federal authorities would use the Joan Barry case to bring up Chaplin on four indictments which include interfering with Barry's arrest and violating the Mann Act for transportation of women across state lines for sexual purposes.
While Chaplin was acquitted, unfortunately, because of the negative publicity, the federal government successfully achieved what they wanted, to hurt Chaplin's career.
More negative publicity would affect Charlie Chaplin when he married his 18-year-old protegee Oona O'Neill (Chaplin was 54 at the time), the daughter of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill and writer Agnes Boulton. And because he would not consent to her marriage to Chaplin, despite their close relationship, O'Neill ended his relationship with his daughter.
And while Chaplin was happy to be married to Oona and continued to work on his new film "Monsieur Verdoux" (which he started in 1942), a film which came from an idea from Orson Welles about a bluebeard/French serial killer named Henri Landru. While Chaplin tried to sway American sentiment that he was not a communist and even had a major publicist try to promote his new film and also to prepare audiences for a non-Tramp role, unfortunately, his reputation was already tarnished.
He was booed at the premiere, people wanted to boycott his film and Charlie Chaplin who was known to earn $5 million for his films, would only make $300,000+ in the box office and became a commercial flop. But in other countries, the film was a success.
But the damage was done and Chaplin's American career would never be the same ever again. By his next film "Limelight", when he went to screen the film in London, while returning back home with his family, the Attorney General revoked Chaplin's re-entry permit. But because Chaplin and his films were warmly received, he would make Switzerland his new home.
While the film was not looked at positively back in the 1940′s, as decades have past, many would recognize "Monsieur Verdoux" as Charlie Chaplin's first major talkie film that was a true masterpiece. Even in Charlie Chaplin's autobiography, he wrote "Monsieur Verdoux is the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made".
And now, "Monsieur Verdoux" will be released on Blu-ray and DVD by The Criterion Collection.
"Monsieur Verdoux" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). The film features wonderful contrast and is well-detailed. Whites and grays are well-contrast, black levels are also much better. I saw no damage or major flickering, banding, if anything, the film looks magnificent on Blu-ray!
According to the Criterion Collection, this high-definition digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35 mm camera negative at L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image System's Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise reduction and jitter.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Monsieur Verdoux" is presented in English LPCM 1.0. Dialogue is clear and subtitles are easy to read. I detected no pops, crackles or terrible hiss during my viewing of the film.
According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtrack was remaster at 24-bit from a sound negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.
"Monsieur Verdoux - The Criterion Collection #652" comes with the following special features:
Chaplin Today - Monsieur Verdoux - (27:01) Directed by Bernard Eisenschitz, featuring observations by filmmaker Claude Chabrol and actor Normany Lloyd about the troubling times of Charlie Chaplin and the brilliance of the film "Monsieur Verdoux".
Charlie Chaplin and the American Press - (24:54) Kate Guyonvarch, Director of the Charlie Chaplin Company, Roy Export and Charles Maland, author of "Chaplin and American Culture" review the coverage of Chaplin the American press.
Marilyn Nash - (8:05) A 1997 audio interview with images by Charlie Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance with Marilyn Nash (who starred as "The Girl" in "Monsieur Verdoux").
Radio Ads - (6:15) Featuring a total of eight radio ads: "A Modern French Bluebeard", "This Merchant of Death", "A Warning", "For Women Without A Sense of Humor", "Lady, Can You Take a Dare?", "The Top Picture of the Year", "The Suave, Sinister Lady-Killer" and "Remember - It's a Comedy".
Trailers - (8:38) Three trailers for "Monsieur Verdoux" from France, Germany and the United States.
"Monsieur Verdoux - The Criterion Collection #652" comes with an 38-page booklet with the following essays: "Sympathy for the Devil" by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, the article that Charlie Chaplin wrote for the "Continental Daily Mail" titled "My New Film" and Andre Bazin's "The Myth of Monsieur Verdoux" from Bazin's film "What is Cinema? Vol II".
It's hard to use the word sympathetic when it comes to a character that is a mass murderer. Nor should one sympathize for one that is amoral for the crimes they have committed.
But what Charlie Chaplin was able to create was a character that is intelligent, witty but its the idea in his head that what he has done is miniscule to what countries have done in war. Where one man kills, he is a murder. When a nation kills, they are seen as not.
This is an interesting juxtaposition from Chaplin's last film "The Great Dictator" in which the threat of Hitler was scaring the masses, Chaplin used his famous personality to preach for a kinder world where people rise above their hate, greed and brutality.
But by 1947, he had been branded guilty by the mass media and U.S. government for his political beliefs and because of his personal life. Two years before "Monsieur Verdoux" was released in theaters, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II and while images of the devastation was suppressed by American media at the time, because Chaplin was a person who traveled the world and had conversations with many of the affluent people in business and also military, he had a chance to know about war, the effects of war and was tired of war.
But as he seeked to form a working bond between American and Soviets, it would backfire on him as he would be branded a communist. Anyone who dare side with him, would also be branded a communist and unfortunately, many people in the entertainment industry were automatically judged to be communist but Chaplin would be remembered not just as a silent film star icon but also an actor persecuted by the U.S. Govt. and never allowed to come home until 1972, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offered Chaplin an Honorary Award and would be Chaplin's first time in the U.S. after 20-years since his re-entry to the U.S. was revoked. And a standing ovation that would last 12-minutes, the longest in Academy's history. Chaplin would also be awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975.
So, as we look back at "Monsieur Verdoux" and many see this film as a masterpiece, you can't help but feel a bittersweet attitude towards the film. Primarily because how poorly the film was received because of his treatment by the U.S. government but also the large amount of negative press that he received.
Chaplin tried his best to defend the film. A film that cost him two million dollars and took seven years to make. But it was his drive to tell a story about how a poor French clerk who lost his job due to the Depression looked at wooing wealthy women, marrying them and murdering them as a way to support the wife and child that he does love. In his mind, that contemporary civilization is making mass murderers of us all.
While the film is a comedy, Chaplin knew the state of how things were in America and the world at the time. After a major World War, these were serious times in which he felt he could use his personality for good and at 58, there was no need for the tramp as he could not play the popular character all his life. But it was his opportunity to create pity for all humanity as he would say, "in the drastic circumstances of present-day living".
Charlie Chaplin in "Monsieur Verdoux" is wonderful. His ability to play a character that is calm, collected but able to pursue multiple women by using his charm and trying to find anyway he can to get their money.
Meanwhile, as much as he has been able to travel and marry or have relationships with many married women in his life, some he manages to kill, some he doesn't (because he doesn't know how to get them to give him access to the money), we are introduced to another character, a girl (portrayed by Marilyn Nash) who has been released from prison and receives inspiration from the one man who tries to help her and most of all, listen to her...Monsieur Verdoux. Her character has become an important and pivotal character towards the end of the film but it's the planning of the characters in the film that make "Monsieur Verdoux" a fascinating film and at times a comedy.
Most of the comedy is derived from the scenes featuring comedian Martha Raye as Annabella Bonheur, a wisecracking, blunt and yet wealthy woman with a laugh of a hyena. But in addition to Bonheur, we have appearances by William Frawley (best known as Fred Mertz in the sitcom "I Love Lucy") and Fritz Leiber, Sr.
But the work and performance of Charlie Chaplin is incredible. If anyone was able to get away from his well-known "Tramp" role, we as audiences of today, recognize that Chaplin was successful. Unfortunately, because of the release of the film during his worse time of his personal life, the film would not receive the recognition then, as it does now.
So, we go back to the question of whether a film about an amoral mass murderer should be regarded as wonderful cinema, especially among the many masterpieces in his oeuvre. I have to say yes. We sympathize with Verdoux, but we know that as much as his amoral perspective is only justifiable to him but not to the masses, it's because Verdoux was a man who knew he did wrong but he was the product of society and that he will not be the only one with that mindset.
But as a society who believes one man who kills any is a murder, what of a country that kills many more for the sake of war or business. Is he any different?
As for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, the film delivers the most beautiful version of this film to date. The special features are also important in introducing people to what Charlie Chaplin was enduring in his personal life and his career at the time but also featuring interviews with people who knew him.
Overall, "Monsieur Verdoux" is another magnificent Charlie Chaplin Blu-ray release but is also a film that is deserving of its recognition as a true Charlie Chaplin cinematic masterpiece. Highly recommended!
on April 22, 2006
When Chaplin set about to tell the tale of MONSIEUR VERDOUX, he wanted an actress for the role of the indestructible Annabella who could hold her own in the comedy department. He looked no further than stage/radio/movie star Martha Raye, who was known for her improvisational skills and was fearless when it came to comedy. Raye considered this the high point of her career, to have been chosen by the man she considered The Master as a co-star. Without exception, critics hail the rowboat scene when Verdoux is trying vainly to murder the obnoxious Annabella as the highlight of the film. Given the right director, Raye was matchless in comedy and also proved to be a capable dramatic actress in a precious few roles (Jumbo, The Gossip Columnist). Watch this film, if only to appreciate the comedy genius of Martha Raye. Oh, Chaplin ain't bad either.
on August 19, 2000
That was the campain in the 40's, when the public didn't want to accept this film. After a few weeks of running, it was abandoned in all cinema's. The people expected a Little Tramp, instead, they got a Bigamist Lady Killer. En mass they decided to boo the film and stay away.
However, this is not what Monsieur Verdoux deserves. In every scene you see Chaplin's quick brain, keen eye and swift feet at work. Some of the love scenes are absolutely hilarious, even in this day. Martha Raye (the wife who refuses to me murdered) is a scream. The film is intended as a parody on Society prior to WWII; if you watch it with this in mind you'll be able to enjoy it tremendously.
Before Chaplin decided to make this film, he had just gone through one of the most turbulant periods in his life. His divorse with Paulette, being harrased by a neurotic former love, meeting Oona and soon to be banned from the States, accused of being a Communist had taken it toll. Chaplin fought back in the only way he knew how: by making a comedy to tackle the present cruel (at least to him) society.
This DVD quality is as good as you can get; there a no evidence of film aging. However, the text on the back of the cover is a great disappointment. I happened to read it before I watched the film (as most people do to see if the film is what they were looking for), and not only was this the dullest description of a film I ever saw, but worse, it actually managed to give away the entire film including the FINAL scene! If you decide to give this film a chance (which won't be a disappointment, garantueed), avoid reading the back of the cover at all costs.
This is a five-star film, but one star off for the cover. Shame on Image Entertainment!
I belong to the group of people who think 'Monsieur Verdoux ' is Chaplin's greatest film. ('Limelight' runs a very close 2nd for me) Everything from the script and acting, to the production design, to the photography and absolutely top notch focus pulling and even the music reflect Chaplin's unerring dedication to his singular vision of all around quality in his films. Quite frankly, his films are among the very best looking ever made with the greatest of attention paid to even the smallest of details.
With that said, this review is going to focus on the video and audio quality of this Blu ray presentation and not the film itself.
'Monsieur Verdoux ' comes to Blu Ray in an excellent package from Criterion. An almost flawless 1080p presentation. A few instances of print damage keep it from being "perfect" but overall this is one of THE sharpest looking B&W Blu Ray transfers I have ever seen. The PQ just screams QUALITY and I found myself frequently shaking my head in amazement as the film progressed. Hats off to the folks at Criterion. They did a really fantastic job with this title. Also, cheers to Criterion for always giving us PROPER cases for our treasures. No eco-case baloney here folks!
Superior contrast balance & grey scale, amazingly precise delineation and proper motion rendering are in abundance here. The level of detail is astounding really. This easily blows away the much ballyhooed new 4K transfer of 'Casablanca' and that fact is a true testament to the artistry of Chaplin himself, who famously oversaw each and every aspect of his productions with a full hands on approach. ( I have the BD release of 'Limelight' as well and the detail is just as abundant)
On a merely technical level, Chaplin was peerless in his film making. On an artistic level, the very same can be said.
So the PQ is really great, how about the audio?
Again, this product does not disappoint. You get the original MONO mix in LPCM uncompressed format. The original elements have held up and some very good post work was done to eliminate almost all signs of age. Dialogue is crisp an clear, music shows no sign of distortion and overall balance is great. All extraneous noises have been removed (clicks, pops, hiss, etc) and you end up with a soundtrack just as compelling as the video.
OK, sound and picture quality are superb, how about the extras? With almost 90 minutes total worth of extra material, over half in HD, you get a virtual cornucopia of extra features here. All who love this film will dig right in and enjoy them all.
'Monsieur Verdoux ' is a real living testament to the genius, artistry and absolute perfectionism of Charlie Chaplin. If you don't like the film then you just don't get it. That's fine. Many don't. BUT if you among those who LOVE this film, then rest assured that this Blu Ray package will NOT disappoint in any way and measures up to the master himself. Worth every single penny of the purchase price!
Marty G's most HIGHEST recommendation!
on June 3, 2013
Monsieur Verdoux is a great picture and the Criterion Blu-ray version is beautiful. The picture and sound are crisp and clear, looks like something from the 80s rather than the 40s. A great story (from an idea by Orson Welles) and Chaplin is at his best along with other very good actors. The menu and extras are the normal Criterion type. I am delighted with the quality of this version, wish we could get the same quality in many other older films.
on November 8, 2013
2013 sees the Criterion Collection release Charlie Chaplin‘s Monsieur Verodux (1947). With this film, Chaplin’s sentimental Tramp was unquestionably dead, and in its place was an elegant black satire about a mass murderer. Critics and the public alike vilified Chaplin for this shift, to the point of picketing theaters, booing him at the Broadway Theater premiere, and eventual forcing the film’s withdrawal from the American market. James Agee, Kenneth Anger, and Bosley Crowther were among scant few notables who went against the tide and sang the film’s praises, declaring it a masterpiece. Later revivals have seen contemporary critics belatedly joining the film’s original champions. Today, Dennis Schwartz writes, “Monsieur Verdoux remains an unusually provocative satirical black comedy that’s subversive and gives one a greater sense of Chaplin’s political breadth from his previous work.” This reappraisal is not surprising: Verdoux‘s dark, sardonic humor is attuned to the modern mindset.
While Monsieur Verdoux does not compare to Chaplin’s most assured silent work, it is his most successful sound film (although that may not be saying much). The idea of Chaplin playing a Bluebeard type came from Orson Welles. Predictably, Welles suggested himself as director and, even more predictably, nothing came of it. Chaplin decided to pursue the idea solo, embarking on a screenplay. He offered Welles a “story idea” credit, and much to Chaplin’s chagrin, Welles accepted.
In retrospect, Monsieur Verdoux might be seen as an antidote to Chaplin’s next feature, the excessively saccharine Limelight (1952). The initial critical and commercial failure of Verdoux was comparable to the situation with Harry Langdon‘s bleak Three’s A Crowd (1927), after which Langdon reportedly tried to rebound with the populist-minded Heart Trouble (1928) (since that film was not distributed and is now lost, it is impossible to assess whether or not Langdon’s effort for a comeback would have been successful). Chaplin attempted to rebound from the commercial failure Verdoux with Limelight. Although Limelight proved to be a commercial success, critical reception was mixed. In her infamous review the critic Pauline Kael referred to it as “Slimelight” and, according to a Chaplin biographer, Pablo Picasso walked out on the film, finding it to be nauseatingly sentimental. The two films which followed Limelight were critical and commercial failures. To its credit, Verdoux does not overdose from Chaplin’s heart-on-sleeve sentiment.
Monsieur Verdoux is based on the life of serial killer Henry Desire Landru, aka “The Bluebeard of Paris”, who was convicted and executed for the murder of eleven women in 1922. The film opens with Verdoux’s voice-over narration from his tombstone, immediately indicating that what is about to unfold is far from the dance of the dinner rolls.
Verdoux is a banker who has lost his job during an economic crisis. At home he has an invalid wife and young son. In his late fifties, Verdoux knows his prospects for employment are slim and he resorts to marrying and murdering wealthy women to provide for his family. The Tramp faced the perils of Capitalism in Modern Times (1936), but here his response is an all-out blitz.
Chaplin’s Verdoux is an artful murderer. His is an aesthetic approach to killing, related to but opposite of The Great Dictator‘s Hynkel. He only really comes to life when he is engaged in the art of murder. Some of the physical comedy falls flat (Verdoux tumbling out of a window). Chaplin cannot resist mocking, then milking, the bourgeoisie heartstrings in the scenes of a paralyzed Mrs. and son at home in the lonely Spanish villa.
The best stroke here is Chaplin’s casting of Martha Raye as Annabella, the one wife he simply cannot kill. Chaplin always knew the value of a great female foil and he has one in the thankfully low-brow comedic antics of Rae, who contrasts beautifully with Chaplin’s self-praodying, effete elitism. Even in a film about a killer of women, Chaplin, commendably, does not succumb to a patriarchal ethos. Verdoux’s numerous attempts to kill Annabella prove unsuccessful and she proves as valuable to him as Jack Oakie’s Napaloni was to Chaplin’s Hynkel in The Great Dictator (1940). Verdoux’s final attempt on Raye’s life is an extended and somewhat clumsily executed spoof of Theodore Dreiser’s novel “An American Tragedy.”
Chaplin provides a second strong female counterpart in Marilyn Nash’s “The Girl” who reads Schopenhauer and laments Verdoux’s loss of cynicism. Nash calls to mind elements found in Chaplin’s previous leading ladies (Paulette Goddard‘s Gamin from Modern Times, most specially) and she prefigures Claire Bloom’s Thereza in Limelight.
Naturally, Chaplin will not forgo painting his societal misfit with a degree of sympathetic coloring and he does this, as typical in his late works, with an extended anti-war speech that also tackles the dog-eat-dog tenets of Capitalist America. On his way to the gallows, Verdoux gets in one last, brief anti-organized religion quip. Thankfully, the cold-blooded killer Verdoux is not as long-winded as The Great Dictator‘s Barber or Limelight’s Calvero. Chaplin, as expected, is best in his pantomime moments. 1947 Audiences expected laughter from Chaplin. They didn’t get much of it from this morality play. Still, despite its flaws, Monsieur Verdoux has withstood the test of time better than any of Chaplin’s sound work. However, and not surprisingly, his best silent work somehow seems more contemporary.
The Criterion Edition includes a making of the film documentary, an audio interview with co-star Nash, three theatrical trailers, and essays.
* my review originally appeared at 366 weird movies
MONSIEUR VERDOUX (Writ./Dir. Charlie Chaplin, based on an outline by Orson Welles, 1946, released in Sweden et al., 1947, 124 minutes) represents one of the very few times I have actually studied a film before viewing it. This approach is a personal old habit of mine but as I say, I almost never do this--I don't even like seeing reviews of films I am about to review.
Set in France in the 1930s, we find Msr. Henri Verdoux, a banker who is fired after 30 years excellent, dedicated service. It is almost a persecution, as all such firings are--it unleashes a monster. Verdoux, very much in love with his wife, realizes the only way he can support her and survive is to marry then murder wealthy women. He manages to find the most repulsive women, and for Verdoux, as he says it himself, it is "business", not murder. Verdoux's argument: if you murder some, you're a murderer; murder millions and you're a hero. His condemnation of war and other forms of genocide such as starvation and prejudice: "Numbers sanctify."
The Hitchcockian brilliance of this film (which undoubtedly inspired Hitchcock) lies in Chaplin's ability as a director to get exactly what he wants, every time. A smooth tracking shot up a twisting flight of stairs, a sequence at a nightclub where the dancing couple is yet isn't the primary thing in the scene...all brilliant. When Verdoux meets a young woman who is somewhat like him, he takes a shine to her. When she succeeds in life by marrying a munitions manufacturer, Verdoux gives himself up, and off to the guillotine he goes. In that closing scene, as he walks away with his back to the audience, we see the Tramp one last time. it is Chaplin reaffirming to the audience that it is he.
A great deal of this truly sad film is about what might have been, what could have been, and not so much about murder. Alec Guinness got his huge break from such a film, Kind Hearts And Coronets (see my review). The trouble is the film was instantly hated in the U.S. No one was willing to give it the slightest attention, and perhaps it was a blunder of Chaplin's to expect Americans to get the point. Verdoux IS Chaplin: suddenly kicked in the behind after years of dedication and hard work. A man soon to be thrown from the U.S. A man heckled and hated by McCarthy's witch-hunt. Even Welles, who pushed for the credit, pawned it off on Chaplin in an act of personal cowardice.
This film is well worth seeing precisely because it is so out of character. Chaplin had been deeply immersed in the idea of resurrecting Verdoux somehow before his wife Oona convinced him to do A King In New York/ A Woman Of Paris instead (see my review, but only for KING). I'm not certain in what way Chaplin might have "resurrected" Verdoux, so the story might be scurrilous. If anyone could have done it, it would have been Charlie Chaplin. Verdoux meant so much to him because Verdoux's feelings represented the way Chaplin really felt, and Chaplin easily identified with this serial killer who was based on two real-life murderers.
Martha Raye, who plays an American woman, represents the ideals Chaplin admired. She is the woman he cannot kill and she really steals the scenes she's in. What I feel is completely missed by everyone here is the concept that a decent, ordinary man has been changed into a monster--in other words, driven insane. The idea that murder-for-gain is "business" paints a picture of a horror that could happen to almost anyone. Martha "The Bigmouth" almost saves him from himself, but it can't be--it has to be something else that finally moves him to hand himself to the authorities.
Even unto the bitter end, he hasn't regained his sanity. He goes away knowing he continued to do whatever he had to do to survive. The love for his wife was no excuse, but the profound reason for his murders. Chaplin was feeling this role, that's true, but the film is a warning. The Tramp wants to get the last word and remind us that we make every one of our own monsters. Then who should we blame?