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 sublime, eloquent Charlie in his finest sound-era vehicle.
The word "Bluebeard" ("Landru" in French) has been a part of the American vernacular for some time now, synonymous with the term "wife-killer." Several variations of the infamous Parisian charmer who married then buried have been filmed over the decades - some OK, others not. John Carradine starred in a respectable but unheralded version in the mid-30s as a puppeteer-turned-perpetual strangler. A so-so French/Italian co-production in 1962 starring Charles Denner and Michele Morgan strove for dark comedy but ultimately lacked the creative spark. The worst of the lot was a wretched Richard Burton/Raquel Welch/Joey Heatherton rehash in the 70s, the nadir of Burton's screen career.
It seems most fitting then that the wry, comic genius of Charlie Chaplin, our beloved "Little Tramp," is allowed to put its delightfully macabre spin on the Bluebeard tale with 1947's "Monsieur Verdoux," winding up with perhaps the most entertaining version yet. First and foremost, it is a pleasure to hear Charlie talk. I also venture to say this is the best of his sound-era films, well-mounted and shot meticulously in black and white, in which he not only produced and directed but provided the music. Who but the loveable Chaplin, with that ever-present tinge of pathos, could play the role of a methodical, unrepentant human wife-disposal who kills purely for financial reward, and have the audience rooting for him!
Our titular hero is a charming fop of a fellow who operates his deadly deception by a precise timetable - he fastidiously charms, marries and eliminates his unsuspecting victims with keen attention paid to banker's hours! But it's Monsieur Verdoux's motive that gains the viewer's empathy. Our boy is not the mad, demented, twisted, cold-hearted monster one must think. He carries out his dastardly deeds out of selfless need. His out-of-town "business" is conducted solely in order to support and tend to his wheelchair-bound wife, a hopeless cripple and invalid, and family. His devotion, in fact, is so honorable, he succeeds in wrapping you around his little wedding finger. As much as you sympathize for the dowagers he does in, you can't help but think at least the old dears died having been graced by such a noble gentleman.
Brash loudster Martha Raye, often considered a bust in films for being intolerably larger-than-life, has one of her best roles here, grabbing her share of laughs as one of Verdoux's intended victims - a shrill, obnoxious, but verrrry wealthy dame whom nobody would really mind seeing knocked off. The problem is Charlie can't seem to off her! Every industrious attempt fails miserably. In one truly madcap scene that directly parodies Theodore Dreiser's classic novel "An American Tragedy," Charlie takes Martha, outlandishly bedecked in silver fox furs, out on a crude fishing boat excursion in the hopes of drowning the tenacious harridan. Two comic masters in vintage form.
Of course, Charlie does get his comeuppance but its all done in grand, sophisticated style. The whole movie is, in fact, so precise and polished that one must forgive him, given his controversial "subversive" leanings at the time, for tacking on an interminable, out-of-character piece of political diatribe at the finishing line. The movie's theme and bitter irony did not even pretend to disguise his great personal anguish and bitterness at America when political conservatives were breathing down his neck. Forgiven he is, for this black comedy, a sublime, eloquent retread of an old familiar creeper, comes off refreshingly original.
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