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In his autobiography Charles Chaplin called this film his "cleverest
and most brilliant" comedy, yet very few people at the time the movie
was released shared this view. It was the first Chaplin US failure both
with critics and audiences (though in Europe the film did quite well).
Here Chaplin plays Henri Verdoux, a serial killer who makes his living by marrying and murdering lonely reach women. Chaplin softened his character by making him a lifelong bank clerk who was laid off at the age when it was already too late to start life anew, meanwhile he has a family to support (a small son and an invalid wife). He's caught and put to trial where he accuses a hypocritical society of sanctioned mass murders and describes himself as an amateur in the field. Originally the idea belonged to Orson Welles who wanted to make a movie based on the story of a notorious murderer Henri Landru, a Frenchman who was executed in 1922 for murdering 8 women. Welles asked Chaplin to star in his film but the latter refused as he thought it was too late for him to play in a movie directed by someone else. But he bought the original idea from Welles and made what could have been a detective story or a thriller into a black comedy. It was certainly provocative and its sarcastic and ironic gravity was astonishing for the time. There is a scene, for instance, when Verdoux while waiting for the execution, talks to a journalist and pronounces the words that still fill me with horror (as they are as true nowadays as they had been fifty years ago):"Wars, conflicts - it's all business. One murder makes a villain; millions a hero. Numbers sanctify." Yet "Monsieur Verdoux" which is generally known as the most pessimistic of Chaplin films is not devoided of humour. On the contrary, at some moments it's extraordinary funny: take for instance the famous scenes with his "wives" (Annabella or Lydia)or those with madam Grosnay (my favourite bit is when Verdoux is talking to her from a flower shop, the look at the flower girl's face is wonderful!). I believe the film is one of the best I've ever seen and I highly recommend it to everyone.
This movie is a fine example of 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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Abandoning for the first time his character of Charlie the Tramp and
creating the new and intriguing one of "Monsieur Verdoux," Charles
Chaplin subtitled his first film in seven years "a comedy of murders."
This was meant to shock, as was the picture's attack on war and on
capitalism as the source of war, not to mention its ironic sidelights
on Christianitybut to shock us to our senses...
"Monsieur Verdoux" managed to shock the American middle class, but not in the way its maker had intended The public connected the distasteful message of this "crazy" film with vague memories of scandals in Chaplin's personal life and his supposed left-wing leanings
The screen's greatest actor, its most important creative figure, the most famous man in its history, known to more of his contemporaries than even the central figures of the great religions, Chaplin for the first time tasted defeat and failure...
"Limelight," which appeared five years later, was booked into only 3,000 theaters instead of the 12,000 which in earlier days had always been eager for any Chaplin film This debacle had nothing do with the quality of the picture but stemmed from the efforts of pressure groups which, incensed at Chaplin's defiance of accepted moral and economic standards, exerted all their power to persuade exhibitors not to show and the public not to attend it Only its tremendous European success, as in the case of "Monsieur Verdoux," saved it from financial catastrophe
But bigotry and hate were not the only reasons for the failures of these two highly personal confessions They are the films of a man who has withdrawn to a distance to observe the human comedy, and it is from a distance that he sends us his messages Their Sophoclean irony and detachment are matched by a latent savage anger and an infinite compassion... They deal in high style with our highest concerns Above all they seek to speak the truth, not the acceptable truth, not necessarily the whole truth, but the truth as an aging man leaving illusions behind sees it If they have a film counterpart, it is Von Stroheim's "Greed," and, pressure groups or no, they were bound to meet the fate of "Greed."
Charlie Chaplin is "Monsieur Verdoux" in this 1947 film based on the
real-life serial killer Henri Landru. Verdoux is a bank clerk who is
laid off late in life and turns to marrying and killing women for their
money in order to support his invalid wife and child. Sounds brutal,
and when you think about it, it really is, but Chaplin as usual manages
to couch his message in comedy. While we see that he is successful in
knocking off a couple of women and getting their money (though we never
actually see a murder), Verdoux has a couple of failures as well, and
there the fun begins. One of his women, Annabella Bonheur, is played
hysterically by Martha Raye as a vulgar loudmouth eternally suspicious
of Verdoux, who is posing as a boat captain. He tries some different
ways of killing her, but no matter what he does, nothing works. He then
turns his attention to another woman he's been chasing for some time,
Marie Grosnay (Isobel Elsom). He's about to walk down the aisle when
who does he see as a guest at the wedding - Annabelle. His attempts to
get out of the house are priceless.
Despite some genuinely comical scenes, the speech that Verdoux makes gives its deeper message - Verdoux was in it for the money. To him, the women were business propositions to be exploited. His point is that what he has done on a smaller scale is being done by dictators worldwide; people are not treated as human beings but merely for economic gain, for power and for exploitation. Though Verdoux's argument doesn't absolve him of responsibility or justify his actions, the warning is a good one - people need to care more about each other and about what's going on in their world, and put their attention on really important matters like suppression of the masses. Why, he asks, are the headlines full of Verdoux and not of what is going on around the world? (The film's ending takes place in 1937.) It's interesting to consider what would have happened to this story in the hands of Orson Welles, whose idea it was originally. He wouldn't have made it a comedy. It would have been a drama or a detective story. Only Chaplin would think of making the story of a serial killer into a comedy of sorts. Certainly 1967's "No Way to Treat a Lady" takes a page or so from this script.
"Monsieur Verdoux" wasn't well received by the public - at all - and by 1947, people were questioning Chaplin's politics instead of reveling in his genius. It possibly was ahead of its time; it certainly wasn't appreciated as it is today. The movie is not without some problems, the biggest one being, what the heck happened to Verdoux's wife and child? It is never explained.
"Wars, conflicts - it's all business. One murder makes a villain; millions a hero. Numbers sanctify." Charlie Chaplin as Verdoux said that 61 years ago.
Wow, this is a great film. One of the most underrated Chaplin
films, this may not appeal to the ultra-sensitive. Although
that is odd since it is a very deeply feeling film. Underlying
issues dealing with hypocrisy in (then & now) modern society.
Believe it or not, this is an anti-war and violence film and it is one of the smartest ones I have ever seen. Murder and Mayhem has never been as funny but Chaplin somehow makes sure that his character is not a hero while still achieving his trademark pathos and sympathy from the viewer in the end. The final scenes are surprisingly important and contributes to the growing revisited relevance most Chaplin films are receiving.
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
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
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,
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.
Considered in some circles as Chaplin's crowning performance. It's a
clever and earnest study of a man, a survivalist in a world gone the
way of a corporate jungle. It also becomes incredibly relevant now in
its take on the ruthlessness of capitalism and harshness of being part
of a civilised society. Take allegory on its face value, Chaplin's
Henri Verdoux is a bluebeard, who marries middle-aged women for their
money and disposes of them through incinerators or "liquidates them" as
he prefers to call it. His actions are driven by a need to care for a
young child and an invalid wife who look up to him, as he keeps from
them his retrenchment from his post as a bank clerk. He sees no
difference in murder as he does in business. There's an inconsolable
sadness throughout the film. Despite the gags, and wit teeming within
its situations and characters, all roads lead to despair. The cold
reach of its cynicism is daunting as it is bleak.
The film presents incongruities to the calculatingly agreeable monster by showing an aging man whose waning pride demands attention, and a hopeless romantic who surmises that he's a singular creature in a cold, inhuman world. The film then shows how arctic and precise he is when it comes to murder, how meticulous he is when he plans and how efficient he is when it comes to counting francs - cue the sight gag.
His articulation is almost borne out of being made to play different roles, the confidence he exudes to charm these women into marriage are just facets of Verdoux's intelligence. Above all, he assumes he knows how these women think and what they truly are. His misogynistic tendencies towards women who are self-sufficient is in clear contrast to his wife, who he adores and the ingénue in the street he picks up halfway through the film who restores his faith in humanity when she turns out to be an optimistic but kindred spirit.
With the film's final minutes, Chaplin indicts big business within the film's context of being in the Great Depression. He uses this opportunity to verve into anti-war criticism, a keenly placed insight being released just a few years after the end of the second World War. Insisting he's nothing but an amateur compared to the murderers behind war and business machinations, he uses the furious revolutions of the wheels of a train to show like in like many of his silents, that he's nothing but a cog - always turning to the tune of the corporations.
It would be hard to imagine anyone else playing Monsieur Verdoux;
Charlie Chaplin was the only one who could pull it off in any form or
style or way that wouldn't make the character as just an unlikeable
killer of women. As it's written on the page the character, if played
by someone with less charisma or charm or comic timing, would just be
another character actor playing a villain. But Chaplin taking the part
is inspired on his part, and it's a good thing too (and I never thought
I'd say this) that he didn't let Orson Welles direct. With Welles it
obviously would have been a visually awesome picture, but would the
comedy be the same? Or the emphasis on the social message blending in
with the ultimate sanctimonious attitude of the character? It would be
interesting to see Welles script, if it exists, but as it stands he's
mostly a footnote in his tale, if a thankful one.
Under Chaplin's direction and writing Monsieur Verdoux is timed with finesse and glee and with a repetitive transition of the train going by quickly with Chaplin's piano key strokes, and it's often devilish fun to hear how Chaplin's Verdoux gets around and about (or sometimes not) killing and robbing his victims. And yet, I'm inclined to say that it's above all else a triumph for Chaplin as an actor, a performer who's iconic appeal, even past the Tramp character, makes us (or at least me) almost cheer him on or feel awkward or cringing during a scene leading up to a murder, or, as does happen once or twice, not. He knows how to put on an air that's genuine, even as it's the most blatant con, and he does it with a gentleman's manner hiding his desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures ex-bank clerk. While I wouldn't go as far as James Agee in calling it the greatest male performance ever, it might just be my favorite Chaplin performance, full of ranging subtleties and over-the-top expressions and just lingering looks of contempt and malaise and sorrow and outright lying and etc that are just a knockout.
Monsier Verdoux is a peculiar character, as his crimes are meant to be for the good of his wife and child who, of course, have no idea of what he's really doing (in an acidic touch, his wife is also crippled). Is it wrong what he's doing? In the legal sense, of course. But Chaplin sets up a moral code for this character that makes things trickier, a little warped in thinking. If the woman has lots of wealth stored away- and maybe, as with the one who keeps getting away via wine glass and fishing trip, almost deserving in the perception of the character- why carp? But then there's the woman who's just out of prison, her husband's gone, nothing to her name, and... he just can't bear to do her in (especially, as should be noted, as a "test" run for another victim). It becomes curious to see her later on, sort of as the not-quite Chaplin heroine of the story, and how saving the right one for Verdoux is what counts, despite forgetting her until she reappears.
So there's this twisted logic, but in the set-pieces that Chaplin sets up are some of the finest, most brilliantly timed comic moments of his career, filmed for a dark suspense tinged with a near sweetness that we know and love from him. It's satire on a level that is no more or less sophisticated than Chaplin's major silent works, and yet it's just a little sharper, more pointed at the ills of man in turmoil than a simple psychopath, all in the realm of delightful crimes in the upper class. While the end may seem derivative of the Great Dictator with a speech and message chocked forward like spray-paint on a wall, it's a mixed reaction one might have; the sanctimonious attitude, of being accepting and pointing the finger back on society, is haunting and obvious and also, importantly, speaks to the nature of the character. Would a man somewhat comfortable in his own mortality face the end any other way?
A suave but cynical man (Charles Chaplin) supports his family by
marrying and murdering rich women for their money, but the job has some
This film is brilliant, because it is not just entertaining, but also has a strong message. On the surface, it is a man who marries women and kills them in order to get their money. This in itself makes for a good film (and is somewhat risqué for the 1940s). But then, it is also a metaphor for society -- capitalism, imperialism, war... Chaplin takes on the Great Depression and the war industry.
Most people know Chaplin for his silent films and tramp character, but he really became a strong filmmaker in his later years. This film, along with "Great Dictator" and "King in New York" are among his best works. It is a shame that for whatever reason he is not remembered for the second half of his career.
This was the first Chaplin film i saw and James Agee called this the best movie of 1947. If you haven't his read Agee's review in his book Agee on film, i think you read it. Chaplin plays a bluebeard who first marries, then takes all their money and then kills them. Chaplin's done it several times before and he's quite good at it. Chaplin only wants to support his crippled wife and son and since he lost all his money at business, he takes up killing as a business. This movie is very funny and i can't believe all the negative reviews. Orson Welles is the one who gave him the idea for the movie and i wouldn't call this movie a masterpiece like James Agee did but it's a really great film.
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