A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (1923) Poster

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a noble experiment
MartinHafer1 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This film was not accepted by the public when it debuted, as it was only directed by Charlie Chaplin and it was not a comedy. Yes, he does appear VERY briefly in a tiny cameo, but other than that you'd hardly know it was his film.

Edna Purviance, a long-time co-star in many of Chaplin's shorts, is the star of this melodrama. Adolph Menjou is an amoral playboy who loves her--mostly for her body. Carl Miller is the old boyfriend who apparently has a very poorly defined role in the film and ultimately kills himself. In some ways, the movie is quite in advance of its time--taking on topics such as a sexually liberated woman and suicide. But, it also has its feet firmly grounded in the overly melodramatic past, with its occasion over-the-top script and its very old fashioned ending.

The film has excellent direction and cinematography. In addition, just before his death, Chaplin re-edited the film--adding a new score he wrote himself (something he did for most of his features). A beautiful to look at but just a little bit too old fashioned melodrama. It's worth a look for the curious, but it not an exceptional film--and I think that's what America and the world expected from this film genius.
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Love, fate and comfort
TheLittleSongbird5 July 2018
Am a big fan of Charlie Chaplin, have been for over a decade now. Many films and shorts of his are very good to masterpiece, and like many others consider him a comedy genius and one of film's most important and influential directors.

It is hard to not expect a lot after not long before Chaplin had one of his earliest career highs in 'The Kid'. 'A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate' doesn't disappoint, and it shows Chaplin having properly found his style and fully settled. As said with many of his post-Keystone efforts, it shows a noticeable step up in quality though from his Keystone period, where he was still evolving and in the infancy of his long career. The Essanay and Mutual periods were something of Chaplin's adolescence period where his style had been found and starting to settle. After Mutual the style had properly settled and the cinematic genius emerged. Very much apparent here in 'A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate', which may not be one of Chaplin's best but it is to me one of his most under-appreciated.

It is let down by the melodramatic ending that comes over too as silly and an interpolated music score composed not long before Chaplin's death that is intrusive and doesn't fit the film.

On the other hand, 'A Woman of Fate: A Drama of Fate' looks great, from Essanay onwards, and it is certainly the case here, it was obvious that Chaplin was taking more time with his work and not churning out countless shorts in the same year of very variable success like he did with Keystone. It's actually one of his technically best-looking efforts from this period.

'A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate' is also funny and very charming, never coming over as dull and never being too over-sentimental. It features some of Chaplin's most remarkable directing of any effort of his up to this point in his career. He similarly gets the best out of his cast, with the standouts being the ever charming and quite touching Edna Purviance and especially a superb Adolphe Menjou in a star-making turn.

Concluding, very well done. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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Parisian Melodrama
bkoganbing2 August 2008
I was looking in Charlie Chaplin's memoirs and I found that his original idea for the plot of A Woman Of Paris came from pillow talk with Peggy Hopkins Joyce involving one of her former boyfriends, a French publisher. From this came Charlie's idea to direct, but not appear in a film and hopefully make his long time leading lady from slapstick comedy, Edna Purviance a major dramatic star.

The reason given for the non-success of A Woman of Paris is usually given as the fact that people bought tickets and were disappointed that they did not see a Charlie Chaplin comedy. Probably on the silent screen, star images were even more fixed in people's minds than they were when sound came in.

But seeing it today it really does go overboard into melodrama. Edna's a simple country girl who loves Carl Miller, a struggling artist. Some blind mischances of fate and she winds up the paid woman of Parisian rake Adolphe Menjou. It's the tragedy of one romantic and the salvation of sorts for the other that are the basis of the story.

You couldn't make a film like it today, audiences would just laugh at it. In 1923 audiences were looking for laughs attached to the Chaplin name and found none. Edna does a fine job, but the public would not accept her in a drama. Adolphe Menjou as the rake comes off best in the cast.

The film ironically enough was Chaplin's first for the newly formed United Artists of which he was a quarter interest partner. After this one failed at the box office, he went back to cranking out the comedies we expected from him.

Back when I was working person at New York State Crime Victims Board, I had a claimant named Wayne Purviance who was the victim of an anti-gay bias attack in 1982. It was a crime that galvanized the GLBT people of New York City, this person in particular. Wayne was the grand nephew of Edna Purviance.

He's no longer among the living, but to you Wayne Purviance who took some real blows for millions of people, this review is lovingly dedicated to you and your wonderful aunt.
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admirable work
Kirpianuscus2 July 2017
one of films who impress. for the performances. for the modern perspective about social realities. and, in same measure, for the art of director to propose a seductive - bitter story about desire, illusion and happiness. it is a splendid demonstration of high cinema. this fact defines it and, more than a virtue, represents the basic motif for rediscover a pure gem.
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performance and direction trump a formulaic story
Quinoa198420 May 2016
A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate gives us a familiar little story: do you pick the man with the money or the man with the artistic drive and heart (and not really much money)? It's also set in the 1920's since it is, you know, from that decade, but it helps that Charlie Chaplin, in his one and only true dramatic offering, sets it in the milieu of Paris, France of the early 20's when things were bright and alive and Champagne flowed and people danced and so on. It fits to have this story here, and all of the actors are game for it.

Ultimately, this may not be the most original story, as it follows a woman who is kicked out of her home (because, in brief, it sucks as we're told) and goes to Paris in a moment of high dramatic tension and then ends up being attached to one man (Menjou) while the other does come to town and becomes a painter. And lordy-lord it has some exceptionally melodramatic beats.

But Chaplin's light touch connects well with a honestly dramatic and even existential story of a woman caught in a question of choice, and how the choices of the two men (one who is too guilt-ridden over his mother, the other who has no guilt about anything, certainly not the fact that he's made this woman the "other" woman) are wonderfully well drawn, and the performance by Purviance makes her akin to Diane Keaton to his Woody Allen (and there's Adolphe Menjou, who revels in being a high-society cad). Oh, and the music, while a bit repetitive, is also a great fit for the material.
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Chaplin's Comedy of Manners
JohnHowardReid14 September 2008
A Woman of Paris has all the makings of a film noir, but fails to deliver on this score, despite the tragic end met by one of the major characters. Chaplin, as writer/director/producer observes the action of this character at a distance (and the fact that he is enacted by a rather charmless Carl Miller further adds to an audience's lack of empathy).

Despite Chaplin's Foreword insistence that his movie is not a comedy but a drama, it is actually for the most part an enjoyable comedy of manners, a field in which delightfully dapper Adolphe Menjou excelled, enabling him to easily snatch the picture from its nominal star, Edna Purviance. It seems Chaplin's camera cannot help but focus on Menjou. Chaplin's classy dialogue sub-titles also added a fillip, but Menjou's breezy, rich-as-they-come, luxuriantly self-indulgent take-it-it-leave-it manner would have ensured his success even without Chaplin's help.

Chaplin actually conceived the film to launch Edna Purviance (who had starred with him in shorts like the 1919 Sunnyside) as a major star. This ploy was not successful. In my opinion, Miss Purviance lacked both the figure and the charisma that Hollywood stardom demanded. In the Chaplin shorts, she is little more than a foil for the tramp. In A Woman of Paris even newcomer Betty Morrissey and minor players like Malvina Polo, Henry Bergmam and Nelly Bly Baker steal scenes from her, to say nothing of Lydia Knott who compels attention as Jean's fussed mother.
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I'm giving this an 8 despite its many faults
preppy-313 January 2005
Marie St. Clair (Edna Purviance) is running away to Paris with boyfriend Jean Millet (Carl Miller). Unfortunately his father dies and he can't go. She goes alone. A year later she is a "kept" woman of rich Pierre revel (Adolphe Menjou). Then, by accident, she runs into Jean who has moved to Paris with his mother. She still loves him...but will he want her now? There are some huge problems with this film. For one thing--the overbearing music score that director/writer Charlie Chaplin added in 1977. It's loud, annoying and obtrusive. Often it doesn't even match what's on the screen! Cheerful music playing during dramatic sequences totally destroy any effect those scenes might have held. Also the plot is just ridiculous and very corny and VERY melodramatic at the end.

I'm giving this a high rating for a few reasons: it's beautifully directed by Chaplin--just stunning to look at. And, despite the plot, all the actors are just fantastic. Miller is handsome, strong and very affecting as the hero. Purviance is just perfect as Marie--you feel all her pain and indecision. Best of all is Menjou--this made him an instant star. He's just great as the heartless Revel.

So, I recommend it. Just turn the sound off and the acting will carry you over the rough spots.
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A Chaplin film without Chaplin as a performer
AlsExGal4 April 2010
1923's "A Woman of Paris is probably not what you'd expect in a Chaplin film based on the totality of his body of work, both in features and in shorts. However, that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile viewing. It just means if you are new to Chaplin, you might not want to start here.

"A Woman of Paris" showed Chaplin's talent behind the camera without him appearing in front of it, except for a lone cameo in which he quickly appears and then disappears acting as a luggage boy. He made it for two reasons, to do some pioneering in cinematic technique and to help give his long time costar and companion Edna Purviance a career boost. The film is actually quite good with great performances by Purviance and by Adolphe Menjou as a carefree playboy. The film did make a star out of Menjou. It didn't really help Purviance that much. The film is about a pair of star-crossed lovers that circumstance drives apart and then brings back together and the eventual tragedy that occurs due to the weakness of will of Purviance's character's one time fiancé, played by Carl Miller.

The film was a failure at the box office, not because it was bad, but because audiences expected to see Chaplin when they went to a Chaplin film. After the failure of this film, Chaplin went back to formulas that were tried and true for him and never really went out on a limb experimenting again, which is too bad for all of us.
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a revelation
Vincentiu31 May 2014
one of films who surprises. again and again. for powerful , modern message, for the high acting - especially Lydia Knott -, for each scene who remains dramatic and impressive always. sure, it is not a surprise - Chaplin is a genius and that reality is out of comments. but it is not just a technical explanation for the force of film. the basic spice is measure. and the science of detail. the courage and the best cast. the use of universal types and characters of each society/period. the music and brilliant use of theater skills. result - not only a good movie but flavor of a special show. because all is created with high care. because it is not an old movie about lost events but a kind of mirror for each generation.
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A Look Back in the Past
whpratt127 January 2006
Have to give this film a BIG TEN, it is a wonderful look back into the 20's when things were silent on the big screen and it was a different generation than 2000 plus. In those days everything was Radio and the Film Studio's. This is a great production by Charlie Chaplin and his mistress Edna, who was the love of his life, Edna Purviance. The story is about a young man who falls in love with a young gal and his dad and mom disapprove and at the same time tragedy hits the young man's family and he misses out on a very important date. Years go by and the young man still hangs on to his mother and finally meets up with the young gal he was deeply in love with years ago. Charlie Chaplin, produced, directed and composed the music for this film and did have a brief walk on appearance in the film. The public at the time were disappointed in this film, because Chaplin did not appear in the film, which he should have. In real life Charlie should have married Edna Purviance and ended all the scandal he created. This is too great a Classic film to find fault or criticize a masterpiece of the 1920's.
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Whatever Happened To Marie St. Clare?
theowinthrop12 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In the 1920s Charlie Chaplin tried to break away from his double dependence on the "little tramp" and comedy. His first attempt (still a comedy) was "The Kid", where he made Jackie Coogan an equal in the film (althought Chaplin did get higher billing). Then he thought (quite seriously) of starring in a film biography of Napoleon I. There is a photo of him in costume as the Emperor, and Alistair Cooke (in his book "Six Men") mentions Chaplin demonstrating a piece of dialog that Napoleon would say regarding "perfidious Albion". Later Chaplin would concentrate on his co-star (and lover) Edna Purviance, doing this film and later having a second film called "The Sea Gull" that was shot by Joseph Von Sternberg but never released. The poor box office of this film, "A Woman Of Paris" really ended the attempts. Chaplin was a good businessman, and the bottom line was box office. So his next film returned to the tramp - "The Gold Rush".

"A Woman Of Paris" is a well made movie, and never fails to hold one's interest, particularly watching the budding elegant career of Adolphe Menjou. His Pierre Revel is a perfect boulevardier type - he dresses well, knows how to order great food (truffles), and is cynical separating a financial/socially promising marriage from continuing seeing his mistress Purviance. Edna is from the French countryside, and wants luxury and financial security. She also wanted to marry Jean Millet (Carl Miller) but the death of his father on the night they were to elope causes him to miss the planned elopement - and she leaves for Paris. We follow her there and her reunion with Miller - which leads to tragedy. Belatedly realizing what she has lost, Edna goes back to the countryside to assist Miller's mother (Lydia Knott) in charity work. The conclusion where she is happily riding home on a horse and wagon, while a fast touring car (with Menjou in it) drives by without seeing her is wonderful - Menjou was just asked by a friend whatever happened to Purviance, and he shrugs his shoulders.

Purviance is competent but not much more. Her success in Chaplin's comedies was as a reactor to Charlie, not as the creator of humor. She's not Mabel Normand, who was a clever comedienne. Miller is good, but stiff (possibly due to the character's limitations - Chaplin rarely tried to make a Pierrot character who was not the self-sufficient tramp). The best thing about Miller's character is his talent for painting.

One final note - Henry Bergmann who was one of Chaplin's regular actors (sometimes playing fat women, but he played other roles as well) is the head waiter at a posh restaurant Menjou takes Purviance. His indignation at a junior waiter "trying to muscle in" on this rich, big tipping special customer are quite funny.

Not the greatest Chaplin film work, but worth watching.
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A drama masterpiece victim of a comedic popularity ...
ElMaruecan8222 May 2013
"A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate" left me with two certitudes: Chaplin is the greatest film-maker who ever lived, and the film, had it not been 'sold' as a Chaplin film, would probably stand today as one of the most influential movies ever. It's a sad irony that Chaplin's very popularity undermined the success of his first attempt on drama. The movie met with some critical acclaim but popularity was vital to ensure a lasting appeal. Time did justice to "A Woman of Paris" the place it would have occupied definitely belongs to Murnau's "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans".

But it's never too late to appreciate an underrated gem, and I'm sure all the Chaplin's fans, after visioning the 'established' masterpieces, had the opportunity to finally discover his most underrated gem and enrich their appreciation of the film-maker, the dramatic film-maker. Speaking from my own experience, my discovery of the existence of "A Woman in Paris" happened the oddest way. I bought a DVD of "The Great Dictator" and was shocked to see this film instead. I probably had the same response than the audiences who expected the iconic Tramp and were immediately deceived by the opening statement warning that Chaplin doesn't appear (his cameo is hardly noticeable). In a way, I feel even guilty for not having given the film a chance, and waited almost four years before watching it, but Chaplin's aura was so immense I couldn't imagine a film from him and without him.

Now, I'm not an expert in dramatic movies from the Silent Era but I'm sure that the craftsmanship Chaplin displayed in "A Woman of Paris" was ahead of its time and influenced many of his peers. I had reservations when the film started but they were immediately swept off by the quality of a poignant and emotional first act. The film opens with Marie St Clair, Edna Purviance as a woman living in a small French village. She's in love with Jean, an artist, played by Carl Miller to her father's disapproval. The father locks her door of her room but she joins Jean from the balcony during a rendezvous à la "Romeo and Juliet". Her father, infuriated, definitely locks her out of the house, it's up to Jean to find her a bed for the night, forever. The drama goes crescendo when Jean's parents disapprove the union and force the couple to leave the village. They go to a train station, Jean promises to follow her but another succession of events leads her to leave the village, without Jean.

One year later, she became the mistress of a wealthy businessman, named Pierre Revel and played by Adolphe Menjou. I knew Menjou from his performance in "Paths of Glory", and if his devilish smile and cynical attitude, carried by an imitable mustache totally fitted his role as the villainous general, it was perfect for his role as the suave and debonair Revel. If there is one performance that stands alone in the film, it's Menjou's. Not to diminish the lead actors' merit, but they're obviously playing tormented people torn between their love and other demons. For instance, we never question how and why Marie became this woman, Chaplin leaves that to our interpretations through an efficient ellipse, but the narrative is so rich and constructed that we're literally absorbed by the story, and it's as the story progresses that we understand the story of Marie. The film depicts a slice of Paris' roaring twenties, in the zany post-war years, and Marie lived such a nightmarish life we might empathize with her desire to have a break. When one loses the love of his life, better to deliberately sink into the decadence of an easy life.

Yet Marie ultimately meets Jean, and never the story goes into standard directions. Chaplin surprises us by illustrating the continual torment in both Marie and Jean's hearts, she loves him but she never seems not to enjoy her current life, he loves her, he is eager to marry her, but can't find the nerve to disappoint his mother, who doesn't like the way she is. For once, we have characters who act not according to their feelings, but under the influence of much higher and powerful forces, wealth and luxury, authority and maternal love. We never doubt about their love, but we never take it for granted that they will walk together into the sunset at the end. Chaplin made a drama and sticks to it without overplaying it, which makes the emotional parts even more powerful, and he shows a remarkable screen writing talent, proving that silent movies can also benefit from the use of the right words at the right time.

To laud the technical achievement, this review could cover every part of the film-making process: writing, directing, editing, but I mostly want to praise the triumph of storytelling that Chaplin demonstrated. I guess it's the mark of the real talent when a comedic actor proves his ease with drama as well as comedy, Woody Allen could also handle both genres with the same skills, except with dialogs, while Chaplin shows emotions through characters, on looks and body languages, and it's extraordinary how even one look can be translated in many words, characters look like archetypes but they're never three-dimensional.

For the trivia, I read that the film was meant to leverage Edna Purviance's career, to prove that she could succeed without Chaplin. It didn't work because she wasn't talented, but because circumstances forced her to leave the business. Yet the scene-stealing performance of Menjou carries half the enjoyment. There is something of Menjou in Dujardin's last performance in "The Artist", but the comparison ends here, the film was a homage to silent movies, but it may have contributed to the idea that silent movies were just made of gestures and flat love stories. Rightfully, "A Woman of Paris" contradicts those clichés.
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Chaplin doesn't Star in a Drama and Changes the Course of Acting and Comedy
Cineanalyst21 September 2018
He may be remembered as a clown of silent slapstick, but Charlie Chaplin could be a daring filmmaker. At least as early as "The Vagabond" (1916), he was infusing pathos into his portrayals of his signature Tramp persona; with such films as "The Kid" (1921), he pushed the blending of comedy and drama even further as he helped legitimize feature-length slapstick comedies; and having held out longer than any other Hollywood filmmaker on continuing to make silent masterpieces, "City Lights" (1931) and "Modern Times" (1936), while in many ways the rest of filmdom took a leap backwards in the art and craft by adopting sound, when he finally made his first talkie, it was with a then-controversial condemnation of Nazi Germany and fascism, "The Great Dictator" (1940). Additionally, there's this drama he wrote, directed, but did not star in made during the peak of the Tramp's popularity, "A Woman of Paris." Unfortunately, I find it to be one of his least entertaining features, uneven and melodramatically lopsided, but, somewhat paradoxically, it's an important film in the history of screen acting and comedy, including inspiring the development of the sophisticated romantic comedy and was admitted as doing as much by the likes of Ernst Lubitsch (see, in particular, "The Marriage Circle" (1924)).

I couldn't help viewing "A Woman of Paris" and thinking how much better it could've been had it the light treatment of such later comedies--even some of the so-called "Lubitsch touch." Indeed, it has its moments, including a woman being twirled into undress during a party scene, a wonderfully-staged interchange between two women of leisure discussing their sexual exploits while the camera focuses on the restrained reactions of a masseuse, and star Edna Purviance having some fun as a Parisian flapper, the kept woman of Adolphe Menjou's man-about-town. Menjou, in particular, is excellent. Lubitsch subsequently cast him in his first sophisticated romantic comedy, "The Marriage Circle." Had there been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar or an Academy Awards back then, Menjou surely would've been a frontrunner twice over. His characters, especially the one here, are a joy to watch--consistently finding amusement in his womanizing and surroundings, including an especially nice scene where he plays a saxophone as Purviance wanders about upbraiding her life and relationship with him. When she chases after a pearl necklace thrown out the window and picked up by a tramp, he laughs hysterically. Quite a bit actually has been written singling out his performances in both films as representing a new development in subtle, facially-oriented screen acting, as opposed to the pantomime of broad gestures and exaggerated mugging of the body-oriented acting adapted from the stage that had heretofore dominated film performances, and how this new style was assisted by directors like Chaplin and Lubitsch and their use of continuity editing and the increasing focus on close-ups (e.g., see "Lubitsch, Acting and the Silent Romantic Comedy" by Kristin Thompson in "Film History"). Reportedly, Menjou himself recalled in his memories how Chaplin taught him more about acting than any other director and that he repeated the direction, "Don't sell it! Remember, they're peeking at you."

Besides the acting, the film is put together quite well, too, from plotting to settings. Although, the missing fourth walls are a bit too noticeable sometimes; while a lighting effect works well in lieu of a train at the station, the lack of lighting as characters enter and exit the foreground in a room in Jean's boyhood home appears awkward--calling attention to it being obviously a studio set. That's a minor complaint, however, compared to the melodramatic narrative. "A Woman of Paris" has two dueling and disparate treatments: one set in the past of the Victorian-age drama, the kind of film Chaplin's United Artists partner D.W. Griffith may've made, and the other set in the modern Roaring Twenties, a more refined revision of the sex dramedies by Cecil B. DeMille and anticipating those by the likes of Lubitsch, or the stardom of flapper types like Clara Bow and Colleen Moore. The use of looks, including through windows, as in the aforementioned scene with Menjou and Purviance, as well as the opening sequence, seem to prefigure a similar system of looks in Lubitsch's "Lady Windermere's Fan" (1925). Ultimately, however, the tone of "A Woman of Paris" topples over into melodrama and a conventional resolution favoring family and rural simplicity over the big bad city of Paris, what with its evils of sex and all. Chaplin's preachy title cards between scenes are too much, and the mostly-dramatic score that he added in the 1970s doesn't help to lighten the tone, although I do like parts of it, especially at the end.

I also like that Jean, who completes the love triangle with Purviance's Marie and Menjou's Pierre, is a painter, who paints the flapper Marie not as she is, but as he remembers her afore. It's also interesting that Chaplin partly made this film to help launch the independent career of his longtime co-star and mistress Purviance (while basing it on another woman he had an affair with), but as with the film's melodrama and Jean's painting, her career didn't have much of a future. The future was with the sophisticated, subtler brand of modern comedy and acting represented in the film's lighter moments and with Menjou, and, of course, Chaplin would go back to making his greatest masterpieces in slapstick, which also reflected the sort of multi-faceted characterizations, subtlety and deliberate pacing of the best bits of "A Woman of Paris."
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Interesting Change of Pace From Chaplin
Snow Leopard8 January 2003
If nothing else, you have to give Charlie Chaplin a lot of credit for taking a shot at something so different from his usual fare. (Though he himself only appears on-screen for a few seconds this time, he did almost everything else in the production.) And while "A Woman of Paris" is certainly a cut below his comedy features, it's a pretty good melodrama, and you'd have to think that with experience Chaplin could have gone on to become almost as effective with straight melodrama as he was with his sentimental comedies. It's not really surprising that after this he returned to comedy for good, but that was just to keep audiences happy, not because he couldn't do drama, since this is a decent effort.

Chaplin's own frequent lady Edna Purviance is convincing as the young woman whose tangled love affairs pull her away from her true love and into a set of tangled relationships in the empty, decadent world of the Parisian idle classes. Except for being rather contrived - there are far too many coincidences and pat developments in the plot, and they do not work as well in serious drama as they would in a comedy - the story is interesting and fairly creative. It does get a bit heavy at times, since there is very little comic relief, but Adolphe Menjou helps keep it from getting unbearably serious with a good performance as the carefree, irresponsible Pierre. He shows that even without dialogue he can make this kind of character lively and memorable.

Since it doesn't quite measure up to the standard of either the best Chaplin features or the best silent melodramas, "A Woman of Paris" may not have a niche of its own, except for its historical interest. But it's quite an interesting change of pace from Chaplin, and an above average movie that's worth seeing.
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"Time makes strangers of intimate friends…"
Anonymous_Maxine1 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A Woman of Paris is probably best known, ironically, by the fact that it is a Chaplin film that Chaplin does not appear in. It opens with a title card in which Chaplin himself wishes to clear up any misunderstanding by mentioning that he does not appear in the film, but my understanding is that it was a popular and critical failure at the time of its release. He does appear in the film, but walks on and off screen so fast and looks so little like himself that there is really no reason for him to be there. The film's popular failure seems to have been something that plagued him through the rest of his career, since he returned to the film and re-scored it at the age of 87. It was the last work he ever did as a filmmaker, and the result was that people finally recognized the film for the master work that it is.

We meet a young woman whose father keeps her in the house under lock and key, but who nevertheless escapes at night to visit her lover, whom she plans to marry. One night, her father sees her leaving, and then locks her out. He then proceeds over-react to the point where he won't allow her in the house, so she is forced to try to go find a place to stay at her boyfriend's house. It is a curious illustration of 1920s society that his parents want to kick her out of the house as though she were a diseased rodent. They are committing an unpardonable sin by being together at night outside of marriage. It's easy to sympathize with their desperate situation.

Soon, tragedy strikes, which leads to a tragic misunderstanding which, I have to say, is not presented very well in the movie. This is, however, probably the film's only weak point. I had to wonder why this even allowed for a level of misunderstanding that enabled her to move to Paris and join high society without ever talking to the man for long enough for him to explain what happened. It's also a little strange that they both appear to be in their mid-30s or so and are yet not only unmarried but still live with their parents.

Nevertheless, she joins a wealthy social circle and becomes involved in their wealthy and loveless life, surrounded by rich people in constant leisure, smoking cigars, drinking champagne, and eating truffles ("a delicacy for pigs and gentlemen…"). It is inevitable that they will meet again at some point, and when they do, time has, indeed, made strangers of them, but his love is still alive. He has become an accomplished artist and she hires him to paint her portrait, which again intertwines their lives.

It is interesting that he is still mourning the death of his father, even years later. But he comes from a world where relationships are extremely important, whether romantic or family, and she, on the other hand, has entered a world of money where relationships are startlingly meaningless. She drags her feet at talking about the history between them, saying that she doesn't want to dig up the past, while he interestingly looks directly at the camera and explains that he is still badly hurt by what has happened.

Soon, she is forced to choose between a life of love or a life of luxury, and it is notable that the rich man that she was in a "relationship" is pointedly indifferent when she leaves him, explaining that he'll never see her again. "Okay, phone me sometime," he says as he casually walks out the door, leaving her to do as she will. Soon, things seem to be looking up for their mutual happiness, but another tragic misunderstanding (or at least badly timed conversation), throws everything into chaos again. When she leaves, Jean, her boyfriend, becomes desperate.

The ending of the film is deeply symbolic, and involved a long road, like the ending of some of Chaplin's better known short comedies. The film's message, that time heals and the secret of happiness is in service to others, doesn't need to be delivered as directly as it is, but it also doesn't hurt the movie that this happens. It's a deeply moving story that illustrates an unfortunate aspect of a certain level of society, a level about which Chaplin was certainly no stranger. It is definitely, as the title says, a drama of fate, and makes a strong comment about what is important in life. It's interesting to consider Chaplin's personal life at the time that the movie was made, but I think it's more important to let the film stand on it's own. This is a brilliant piece of film-making.
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Sad Love Story - First Love vs. Luxurious Lifestyle
vivianla17 August 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Marie and Jean live in the French countryside. Marie leaves her room by going out the window and is not invited back in. Jean's father refuses to let Marie stay as well. Jean's side profile is gorgeous, I love his cheekbones. The males dress elegantly in the film. I love the vibes of the twenties as well and the flappers.

At the train station Marie is informed by Jean by payphone they have to postpone their trip. Jean is devastated over his father's sudden death. Marie, not informed of the reasoning, chooses to go on the train by herself.

Marie gets a call from a friend at a party to come. The friend is unsure if it is on the right or left. Marie chooses the wrong side and ends up at Jean's new place in Paris. He lives there with his mother. Marie takes out a handkerchief from her cleavage.

At the party it is wild for the twenties - lots of piggyback riding and one woman wears a dress made of one very long strip of cloth. A man unravels it, ravelling it on to himself and she is naked to the excitement of the party people. One man gets up from a daze only to fall back down upon seeing her naked from the back.

Marie is getting a massage and oiling done. A white sheet covers her. Her friend comes running in to inform her of another acquaintance who is with her rich man. The massager removes the white sheet and this is a subtle inference of nudity rarely seen in this time.

Marie tells her rich partner that life has nothing for her. Her partner laughs and points out the riches and wealth she adorns. Marie throws out the pearl necklace only to go out to retrieve it when a homeless man picks it up.

The most dramatic scene is when Marie, standing behind the curtain, overhears Jean belittling their relationship to his mother and that he would never propose. Marie races back to her rich man.

At an exclusive restaurant Marie and the rich man eat amongst the partiers. Two people on lines wearing angel costumes are present and balloons are released. Jean comes in and fights with the rich man. In the foyer he shoots himself and dies.

The body is brought back to Jean's mom and the mom takes the gun and goes to Marie's. The maids inform the mother that Marie has gone to her place. The maid outfits are cute - looks authentic and the low-heeled black strap shoes are cute. The mother comes home and sees Marie crying and puts down the gun.

We see dialogue saying that through experience we learn the secret to happiness is being of service to others. The two women have joined forces to create an orphanage in the French countryside.

Marie and a child sit on the back of a moving vehicle and the rich man pass them with his car. They move in opposite directions.
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Chance is the Fool's Name for Fate
lugonian10 February 2018
A WOMAN OF PARIS (United Artists, 1923), subtitled "A Drama of Fate," happens to be written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin, famed for his Little Tramp character in both silent shorts and features, assumes a difficult task of directing a serious drama and not starring in it. It's not the sort of movie anyone would expect from this comical genius. To assure his movie going public of what they are about to see, Chaplin presents this statement flashed in screen during the title credits: "In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I wish to announce that I do not appear in this picture. It is the first serious drama written and directed by myself." Signed Charlie Chaplin. Rather than appearing in it, Chaplin chose his most frequent co-star since 1915, Edna Purviance, as its title character. Other than Henry Bergman, another member of the Chaplin stock company, no character types from Chaplin's past comedies appear in this production.

The opening prologue begins in "a small village - somewhere in France." Marie St. Clair (Edna Purviance), upstairs in her bedroom, is about to meet Jean Millet (Carl Miller), the man she loves, to discuss their marriage plans. Her father (Clarence Geldert - billed as her stepfather though the girl is addressed as her daughter in this photo-play) takes the key and locks her in. With the window being her only means of getting out, Marie climbs out and is escorted down by Jean, who happens to be awaiting her outside. Observed by her father, he enters her bedroom closing the window, going downstairs to bold the doors. Upon their return, Marie finds herself locked out with her father refusing to let her back in. Jean takes Marie to his home where she, too, is most unwelcome by Jean's father (Charles K. French). In spite of his understanding mother's (Lydia Knott) pleas, Jean takes Marie to the train station where she is to buy tickets to Paris. In the meantime, Jean returns home to pack his belongings, only to find his father dead seated on the sofa by the fireplace. Marie telephones Jean to find out what's delaying him. She is told they must postpone everything for now. Feeling neglected, Marie heads for Paris alone. A year passes. Marie, now a woman of Paris, is also mistress to Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou), the richest man bachelor in Paris described as a "gentleman of leisure whose whims have made and ruined many a woman's career." Marie is also best friends with the vivacious Fifi (Betty Morrissey) and Paulette (Malvinna Polo). Later, while heading for a party given by Fifi, Marie loses her way. She knocks on the door to ask for directions only to find the tenant to be Jean, now an accomplished artist living with his widowed mother. In spite of her engagement to marry Pierre, Marie wants nothing more than to be with Jean again, but Mother Millet will stop at nothing to keep her son from becoming involved with this now notorious woman of Paris again.

Though reportedly a commercial flop upon its release, this stylish silent melodrama might have proved successful had it been directed by Ernst Lubitsch or Josef Von Sternberg and featuring such popular names as Gloria Swanson or Norma Talmadge in the leads. Unseen for many decades, A WOMAN OF PARIS, as composed and scored by Charlie Chaplin himself, began to surface again around the 1970s, first in revival movie houses (such as New York City's Regency Theater in the 1980s) before distribution to home video in 1989 (accompanied by Chaplin 1919 comedy short, SUNNYSIDE), and years later on DVD. Other than Chaplin's unrecognizable cameo as a train station porter (lasting only a few seconds), A WOMAN OF PARIS very much belongs to Edna Purviance. Though she never developed herself into a popular dramatic actress, but known only as Chaplin's frequent co-star, Purviance simply drifted to obscurity following this film's release. Her co-star, Carl Miller, is also forgotten, even among film historians. Yet, the only performer to have benefited from appearing in A WOMAN OF PARIS was said to be Adolphe Menjou, best known mostly for his accomplishments in sound movies during the 1930s, 40s and beyond. And lets not overlook Lydia Knott as Miller's mother, who gives a worthy performance as well.

Regardless of its past reputation, A WOMAN OF PARIS, at 83 minutes, has gained the recognition it deserves. Even without Chaplin in the cast, it's often part of the Chaplin filmography, even with Chaplin tributes on cable television, most notably on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: March 18, 2004). Not exactly Chaplin's greatest in regards to serious acting but his finest achievement, thus far, as an accomplished movie director. (***)
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"… the magic city of Paris, where fortune is fickle and a woman gambles with life."
ackstasis29 May 2007
The second film in my somewhat unusual Charles Chaplin double feature (after the delightfully black 'Monsieur Verdoux (1947)'), 'A Woman of Paris' is perhaps the silent comedy master's least mentioned film, perhaps partly due to it not actually being a comedy, or because Chaplin himself appears only in a very brief cameo role. His first and, I'll venture, his only strictly dramatic feature, the film traces the romantic dilemma of a young French woman living in Paris. It was Chaplin's first film with United Artists – which he had founded in 1919 with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. Originally entitled 'Public Opinion' and then 'Destiny,' Chaplin considered a dozen more titles before he finally settled on a name.

Marie St. Clair (Edna Purviance) and her romance Jean Millet (Clarence Geldart), an aspiring artist, residents of a small French village, have plans to move to Paris and get married. However, unfortunate circumstances delay their plans, and Marie impulsively boards the train without Jean. A year or so later, Marie has assimilated into the upper-class lifestyle of Paris, having become the mistress of a wealthy, cynical businessman, Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou). It is then that she and Jean suddenly meet again. Though there are undoubtedly still feelings between them, Marie must decide whether she can sacrifice all of Pierre's luxuries to pursue the man that she loves.

Written, produced and directed by Chaplin, 'A Woman of Paris' is a tightly-paced drama/romance, employing a lot of dialogue (somewhat unusual for Chaplin, who usually relied on extended slapstick comedic set pieces to drive his silent films) and a three-way relationship that has since become commonplace in films of this sort. The film allowed Chaplin to extend his skills beyond the realm of the lovable little Tramp. Unfortunately, this seemingly was not what audiences wanted. Perhaps perceived as a harmful satire of the American way of life, 'A Woman of Paris' was banned in several US states on the grounds of immorality, and it was a commercial flop. Chaplin had conceived the film as a means of launching the individual acting career of Edna Purviance, though this bid was unsuccessful. It did, however, make an international star of Adolphe Menjou.

Many critics, despite the poor box office performance, praised the film's startling realism. Notably, director Michael Powell ('Black Narcissus,' 'Peeping Tom') cited 'A Woman of Paris' as his greatest inspiration to become a filmmaker. In 1976, a frail Charles Chaplin – just one year before his death – reissued the edited film with a new musical score he had composed, aided by music arranger Eric James. A criminally underrated silent classic, 'A Woman of Paris' is yet another testament to Chaplin's undeniable cinematic genius.
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Uneven melodrama
MissSimonetta30 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The audiences of 1923 were let down by the lack of the Little Tramp in A Woman of Paris (1923). Yesterday night in 2014, I knew what to expect; however, I too was let down, because I expect more from a genius like Chaplin.

There is no doubt that this film is well-directed. Chaplin knows how to get the most out of every frame. My favorite shot in the whole film is right after the heroine Marie hears her beloved Jean assure his mother that he will not wed someone as loose as Marie has been (after believing herself jilted by Jean, Marie left for Paris and became the mistress of a rich man). Jean discovers Marie in the doorway to his apartment and begs her not to leave. Jean is in the center of the frame, in between his beloved in the door and his triumphant mother, seated quietly in the shadowy background. This is a simple, but evocative way of illustrating Jean's inner conflict.

There is no doubt that this film is well-acted. Edna Purviance should have been a major actress; here, she uses no histrionics to convey Marie's world-weariness and yearning for a fuller life than hedonistic Paris can give her. She handles both comedy and drama with ease, more than I can say for some starlets of the period who did manage to achieve public adoration. Adolphe Menjou is wonderful as Marie's lover, somehow keeping him a little likable in spite of his selfishness and amorality.

What keeps this film from being a masterpiece is the plot, which is both old-fashioned (yes, even for 1923) and a touch uneven. Yes, this is called "A Drama of Fate," but so many of these coincidences which move the plot along felt contrived and clashed with the mostly realistic characters. The mix of comedic scenes and dramatic ones could have been more seamless. Sometimes the comedy bits even feel like filler.

Another complaint concerns Marie's true love, the artist Jean. Compared to everyone else, he's not that interesting. He's as bland as a 1920s leading man could be.

A Woman of Paris is not a bad film and it should have been more of a success than what it was back in 1923. But I cannot view it as a lost masterpiece, as others seem to. It's a solid melodrama with fine direction and good performances, but the writing brings it down.
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It improves on repeated viewings
MissSimonetta9 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The first time I saw A WOMAN OF PARIS, the hype killed it. I found the direction stylish but the plot creaky. Only in re-watching it years later have I come to better appreciate just what this film does differently from other movies of the period, particularly in the realm of character psychology.

Unlike your typical late 1910s/early 1920s Hollywood melodrama, A WOMAN OF PARIS shakes up its characters: the alleged romantic hero is a weakling, the saintly old mother has both bigotry and even blood-lust in her heart, the amoral rogue is charming and warm despite his cynicism, and the "fallen woman" protagonist has far more dimensions than one might expect. The underplaying used to bring these characters to life sells the naturalism and authenticity of these characters.

The film is often billed as a straight drama, but Chaplin inserts several humorous scenes throughout, mainly dealing with the wild parties of the Parisian elite or the catty behavior of Marie's friends. I particularly love the scene where Marie tries to make a point to her lover Pierre by throwing his gift of pearls to her out a window. When a wandering tramp picks them up, she rushes outside to retrieve them, breaking a heel on her shoe in the process. Pierre's reaction is hilarious, the comic high point of the movie before the tragedy hits with full force in the third act to come.

I still think parts of the story creak a little and some fleshing out could have helped, particularly in the first scenes. We never know why the young lovers' parents oppose their union-- they appear to be part of the same class and cultural background, and this is before Marie becomes "tainted goods," so it seems a bit strange that they should object. Also, Marie's leaving Jean during that fateful night seems unmotivated. Perhaps some scenes are missing, but I have not heard of this being the case.

Nevertheless, this is an exquisite movie. The direction is assured, the treatment of morality far more nuanced than most Hollywood movies would feature in the years to come.
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All for Edna
caspian197811 October 2004
When do you get when you cross a Charlie Chaplin film without Charlie Chaplin? A flop! A Woman of Paris was just that. For 1923, this drama was just that. The production value, the movie's plot, it characters and the acting was just as good as Chaplin's direction. Still, the movie bombed at the box office for the simple reason that Chaplin was not in the movie. This was a learning experience for Chaplin. From 1923 on, Chaplin knew that if he wanted to get a point across to his audience, he was going to have to add a teaspoon of sugar with the message. His movies needed the comic element to make it a success. Overall, this was Chaplin's former lovers film. Edna Purviance was wife / girl # 453 in Chaplin's life. This was his attempt to make a star out of her. Although A Woman of Paris is a good movie for 1923, it is far from anything great.
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"It's not so bad this way"
Steffi_P6 September 2010
Charlie Chaplin's only completely straight drama that he directed but did not star in was a flop in its day, and due to its anomalous status has not fared especially well in later years either. Nevertheless it has had its champions, like British director Michael Powell and Swedish actress and director Liv Ullmann, and is hailed in some quarters as being as sensational and innovative as his comedies.

However a look at the formal style of A Woman of Paris shows much more simply an assured yet conventional grasp of film form, consistent with Hollywood production of the time. As in his comedies, Chaplin shows an intelligent handling of space and arrangement. In those early shots he gives a cramped feeling by having side walls visible up to the edge of the frame and foreground objects like the bed in Edna Purviance's room leaving little room for manoeuvre. An honourable mention goes here to the cinematography of Roland Totheroh which resembles Rembrandt lighting in all but one aspect – the slight level of clarity in the darkness (as oppose to full shadow) gives a very real feeling of squalor to those opening scenes. Chaplin also makes great use of background and foreground, minimising cuts by having multiple characters in the shot at once. Often there is emotional acting up front with physical acting out back. This is all superb, but it is hardly ground-breaking for the period, nor is it particularly surprising to anyone who has studied Chaplin's other works.

The plot of A Woman of Paris too is a fairly routine melodrama, with many twists that are clichéd and hard-to-swallow. Its condemnation of the excesses of wealthy socialites could almost have been borrowed from one of Mr DeMille's moral crusades. This being Chaplin however its depictions are generally a little more sensitive and humane than the average, and while we do have that hackneyed device of a man ruined by an unfaithful woman, in this case the woman is herself a more or less innocent victim of a callous playboy, and her reasons for her lack of fidelity to one man are at least given some empathetic explanation.

However, A Woman of Paris's melodrama, in spite of its formulaic structure, has a kind of truth-to-life that most other melodramas fail to achieve. Chaplin draws from his cast some steady, measured performances, free from the overt gesture and strained mugging of your typical silent picture. The emoting is clearly stated, yet it is never overstated. The wonderfully restrained Adolphe Menjou makes the best job of this, underplaying everything with a kind of suaveness which makes us believe women could be attracted to him in spite of his being a repellent bounder. Purviance is great too, always having been a competent straight woman to Charlie's funny man, now sticking to a languid pace and letting the emotions drift on and off her face. It's also nice to see Henry Bergman, probably the most professional of Chaplin's regular players, making a bit part and adding just a little note of the ridiculous without violating the drama. Amongst the other cast members, all of whom are now forgotten, no-one exactly stands out, but by the same token none of them shows themselves up with a bad job.

And while, like most Hollywood pictures of the time, A Woman of Paris is a little excessive with the intertitles, Chaplin rarely uses words to give anything away. Moments such as the young artist realising Purviance has another man in her life are revealed with sequences of visual clues, giving them an incredible smoothness and forcing us to really pay attention to those subtle reactions. Then there are those little touches of genius, those moments that separate the truly great filmmakers from the merely good, such as Purviance slowing down when she encounters a gendarme after hastily retrieving her necklace. With A Woman of Paris Chaplin, with his typical mix of unpretentiousness and devoted humanism, dives shamelessly into the lowest depths of melodrama, whilst giving to that genre a sprinkling of the dignity and honesty it so often lacks.
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Belongs among Chaplin's finest work.
Sergeant_Tibbs20 September 2013
It takes a very out-of-character film to be the oddest of a filmmaker's career that includes Monsieur Verdoux. Not featuring Charlie Chaplin himself, it's not really a surprise that A Woman Of Paris: A Drama Of Fate wasn't popular back in the day, but that doesn't mean it's not a good film. In fact, it's a great one. Though it's hard to say what version the 1920s audience watched as Chaplin re-edited and re-scored it at the end of his career in the 1970s, he certainly knew there was a gem in there somewhere. It's one of his most tightly wound and compelling films. Although you never feel particularly close to the protagonists, their characterisation is quite complex and fascinating for a film of this era. It has brilliant ironic scenes such as where the 'woman' throws something valuable about of a window to prove she doesn't need possessions then chases down someone who innocently picks it up. It adds a lot of layers to his usually simple style and gives a mature approach to the dilemma of living for money or love. Although it has plenty of tragedy and comedy, the only issues are the sappy ending that comes out of nowhere and confusing motivations from the fiancé. Otherwise, it's belongs among his finest films and, dare I say, features his best composed score of his whole career. Chaplin certainly began and ended on high notes.

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Beautifully directed and acted
morrisonhimself9 January 2005
Charles Chaplin is noted for his comedy performances, and deservedly.

His direction, though, should be more highly regarded, if only for this one motion picture.

Compare the quality of the photography and the smoothness of the editing to, for example, "The Gold Rush," of about the same time.

"A Woman of Paris" is very modern; "The Gold Rush" is downright primitive (but, in spots, brilliant).

"A Woman of Paris" also shows some admirable acting talent in, really, all the players. Some of the lesser characters are still played beautifully, despite being "lesser," especially Marie's maids and her, more or less, friends, and very especially the masseuse.

And the scene where the artist's mother, played by Lydia Knott, bent on revenge, comes upon Marie -- with no words, just body movement and facial expression -- she tells the audience what the proverbial thousand words could not so well.

Credit for part of that good acting must, of course, go to the director, but even the best director can't make much of poor actors.

Chaplin had very good actors. Adolphe Menjou reached stardom, and deservedly. What a tremendous talent; he could do everything.

Edna Purviance should have achieved much more acclaim. She performed admirably, especially in this movie, and she was attractive. Fame is certainly fickle.

In some ways, "A Woman of Paris" might be written off by a few as "soap opera." But it is well worth watching for the performances and, especially, for the directing.
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Chaplin's Artistic Film Well Remembered After Originally Flopping
CitizenCaine12 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
A Woman Of Paris was edited, written, produced, and directed by Chaplin for United Artists, the company he formed with then film giants Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and screen pioneer D.W. Griffith. The film is historically notable for several other reasons as well. It marked the last collaboration between Chaplin and Edna Purviance, the first film Chaplin directed to not feature himself as the leading actor, and his first entirely dramatic feature film. Perhaps Chaplin already suspected this film was going to be a tough sell when he wrote the disclaimer at the beginning of this film, warning the audience that it was a drama and not a comedy. If he had access to the type of media coverage available to stars today, the audiences' expectations might have been tempered.

The film was a tremendous flop at the box office and was banned in several cities due to the 1924 New Year's Day shooting scandal involving Edna Purviance. She stars as Marie St. Clair, a woman led by fate to the bright lights and hedonism of 1920's Paris where she meets the most eligible bachelor: Pierre Revel played by Adolphe Menjou. Menjou epitomizes what women despise in men: Cockiness and emotional bankruptcy. It's clear from the start that Revel will never marry Marie. While she is torn between Revel and her former love Jean, Marie is also torn between continuing to live well as a kept woman or marrying Jean who has become a moderately successful artist. While some plot elements are contrived and creaky, the film is celebrated as a stunning example of contemporary realism smashing old world stereotypes in Hollywood films.

Chaplin made the film as a valentine to Edna Purviance and to hopefully boost her career as a dramatic actress, but the film's box office failure and another abandoned effort with her called The Seagull put that notion to rest. Purviance is fine but nothing special as Marie St. Clair, but Adolphe Menjou steals the film from her as the caddish Pierre. The film ended up making Menjou a steady lead actor within months of its release. The last five or six minutes of the film are especially poignant. Chaplin wisely eschewed punishing Marie St. Clair in favor of a visually metaphorical ending in which the newly rejuvenated Marie travels in the opposite direction from the befuddled Pierre. More than fifty years after its release, the film was re-edited and scored by Chaplin himself and has garnered a critical following that has greatly boosted the stock of the film. The cinematography and editing are especially first rate. Chaplin regular Henry Bergman appears as a head waiter in a fancy restaurant, and his secretary Nellie Bly Baker plays a masseuse. Chaplin himself has a very brief cameo at the train station. *** of 4 stars.
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