"Presents incongruities to an agreeable monster..."
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.
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