Three Chaplin silent comedies "A Dog's Life", "Shoulder Arms", and "The Pilgrim" are strung together to form a single feature length film. Chaplin provides new music, narration, and a small... See full summary »
A satire on a serial killer is not your everyday movie fare. I can see why audiences of that day were turned off by the Little Tramp's sudden homicidal turn. Of course, it's all treated with a light comedic hand until the moralizing end. Still, Chaplin's subtext comes through clearly at certain pointsunemployment can drive men to extremes when they've got a family to support.
On the other hand, not every man, of course, turns to fleecing rich widows and then dispatching them in cold-blooded fashion. But that brings him to his second pointnamely "numbers sanctify". Kill one person and you're a murderer; kill a thousand and you're a hero. Here it appears he's referring to the state that historically kills by the thousands in the name of the patriotism. Remember, the movie's coming right after the close of the horrific WWII, and he finds the point ironic.
But Verdoux's not through. Capitalism is indirectly indicted for its periodic booms and busts that lead to joblessness, and millions upon millions for munitions manufacturers who prosper during wartime. As for the consolations of religion that come at the end, the gentleman killer appears indifferent without being insulting. Since Chaplin's the sole screenwriter, it's no stretch to believe he's speaking for himself on these matters. Given this rather wholesale indictment of many of the West's leading institutions, small wonder he left the country shortly after under a cloud of controversy.
Nonetheless, the movie hits its comedic highpoints with Martha Raye as the loudly vulgar Annabella. Try as he does to do her in, she manages to comically thwart him at every turn. That scene in the fishing boat's a classic. All his polished charm and oily flattery just slide by her obnoxious silliness. Raye makes a perfect foil and an inspired piece of casting.
Of course, some of the beguiling Little Tramp remains in Verdoux's character, as when he befriends the penniless girl (Nash), or in that supremely ironic moment when he ambles Tramp-style toward the guillotine. All in all, it's a strange little movie that was apparently shelved for years for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, it was rather gutsy for Chaplin to take such chances with his established character and at Cold War's outset. It's fairly humorous until you think about its serious points, which are still worth pondering.
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