The film was a colossal box-office flop on its 1947 release, despite being ardently championed by writer-critic James Agee, who considered Charles Chaplin's acting performance the greatest male performance he had ever seen in films.
The film was originally meant to be directed by Orson Welles and starring Charles Chaplin, but Chaplin backed out at the last moment, saying that he had never had anyone direct him before and didn't want to start. Instead, he bought the screenplay off Welles and re-wrote parts of it, crediting Welles with only the "idea". Welles said that, despite most of the script being his, he didn't mind as it was one of his lesser works.
Before production started, approval was refused by the MPPDA (now the MPAA) under the Production Code (Hays Code), labeling the scenario, still called "A Comedy Of Murders", in their words "unacceptable". They continued, "In his indictment of the 'system' and the 'social structure', the filmmaker offered a 'rationale' of Verdoux's crimes, in terms of their moral work." Worst of all the board also considered Verdoux's attitude toward god "blasphemous". In a letter of response, scene by scene, Charles Chaplin upheld his screenplay again the charge of subversion, but only giving in on details. For example, when one of Verdoux's wives invites him to "come to bed" the line had to be replaced with "get to bed". Chaplin had no trouble getting around such proscriptions, as he did with Verdoux's morning-after "humming" with briskly engaging music. The production board complied and gave this film a seal of approval.
According to Robert Lewis, "It was easy to define the position held by Charlie Chaplin in the making of 'Monsieur Verdoux'. He was everything--writer, star, director, producer and casting director, as well as supervisor of all other departments: costumes, scenery, make-up, lighting, shooting schedules, camera set-ups, and the musical score. He also crawled around on the floor with a knife, scraping up bits of old chewing gum stuck to the floor. For good measure he'd entertain the troops between shots with hilarious imitations, such as William Gillette's inanimate playing in "Sherlock Holmes," a Kabuki actor pounding his feet on the floor, and crossing his eyes with pain, or Maurice Schwartz, the Yiddish actor, intoning a speech while twirling an imaginary beard that went clear to the floor."
Charles Chaplin hired famed press agent Russell Birdwell to publicize this film. Just prior to the premiere, Birdwell wrote columnist Hedda Hopper a note saying: "I contend that Charlie Chaplin's 'Monsieur Verdoux' is the greatest and most controversial picture that has ever come from the Hollywood mills. If I lose I will publicly eat the negative of the film in front of the Chaplin studios. Sincerely, Bird." After she'd seen the film, Hopper wired back: "DEAR BIRD: START EATING. HOPPER."
The tune that Verdoux plays on the piano as Lydia sits by after she withdrew the 70,000 francs is the opening and closing theme to 'Charles Chaplin' *qv('s A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (1923), which he used in 1976 when he re-scored the picture.
Charles Chaplin's leading lady in his early silent films, Edna Purviance, tested for the role of Madame Grosnay but was deemed unsuitable. She hadn't worked with Chaplin since 1923, but was kept on his payroll until her death in 1958.
Although Edna Purviance did audition for the role of Madame Grosnay, she did NOT appear in a bit part as has been long rumored. Purviance's relatives clearly state that she did not appear in this film and that the several women pointed out to be Purviance in the garden party sequence are clearly NOT her.
Although the opening credits state "An original story written by Charles Chaplin" and "Based on an idea by Orson Welles," the story is actually based on the real-life serial killer Henri Landru, who was executed in France in 1922. Also, both Landru and Verdoux are used furniture dealers.
The true story of serial killer Henri Désiré Landru would later be adapted again for cinema as Bluebeard (1963), directed by Claude Chabrol, that film was also a huge failure with critics and audiences that it almost ended Chabrol's career the same way that Monsieur Verdoux (1947) nearly did to Charles Chaplin's career.