A man and a woman arrive in a cafe-hotel near the belgian frontier. The customers recognize the man from the police's description. His name is Amedee Lange, he murdered Batala in Paris. His... See full summary »
This movie is a fine example a genre which attained enormous popularity during and in the decade after World War Two. These so-called "black comedies" (a term perhaps alluding to the funereal subject matter, ranging from fluffy (Noel Coward's "Bithe Spirit" - on stage in 1941, filmed in 1945) to darkly absurd (Ealing's "The Ladykillers" in 1955), turned death into situation comedy. Falling out of favour in the 60s, black comedy returned somewhat in the work of Robert Altman, before being brought back to full glory by the Coen Brothers.
Although the most enduringly successful example of black comedy is perhaps "Arsenic and Old Lace" (stage 1941/film 1944), two of the very greatest filmmakers blessed it with their contributions. Alfred Hitchcock to some extent incarnated the essence of it every time he introduced an episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", but his definitive statement - "The Trouble with Harry" - just preceded the TV shows in 1955.
Charles Chaplin's dark vision, "Monsieur Verdoux", was released in 1947, just before the anti-Communist cries against him were to drive him out of America. A political backdrop is either entirely absent or implicit in the other examples of the genre I've mentioned, but Chaplin makes it explicit, and some might say that, to some extent, this unbalances the last reel of an otherwise utterly brilliant film. Others perhaps will be more sympathetic to the historical context. For me, while completely supporting Chaplin's observations concerning the business of war, the heavy underlining of his message does seem a flaw when viewing the film today.
All the same, "Monsieur Verdoux" is a magnificent achievement, not least in its wonderful gallery of characters, many played by character actors rarely seen on screen. Two in particular stand out, both playing wives of the much-married Verdoux: dour, unsmiling Margaret Hoffman, who goes to her death in an extraordinary scene of darkness followed by sudden light; and Martha Raye, in her best cinematic role, as the wife Verdoux fails to kill. Raye is such an explosion of energy and personality that the screen can barely contain her. To watch her and Chaplin in their scenes together is sheer joy.
The script is witty, the photography excellent, and Chaplin's penchant for sentimentality is held well in check. It is, except for the end, an unusually subtle movie, its tone completely in keeping with its French setting.
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