(director/writer: Charles Chaplin; screenwriter: based on an idea by Orson Welles; cinematographer: Roland Totheroh; editor: Willard Nico; music: Charles Chaplin; cast: Charles Chaplin (Henri Verdoux), Mady Correll (Mona Verdoux), Allison Roddan (Peter Verdoux), Robert Lewis (Maurice Bottello), Audrey Betz (Martha Bottello), Martha Raye (Annabella Bonheur), Ada-May (Annette), Marjorie Bennett (Marie’s Maid), Isobel Elsom (Marie Grosnay), Marilyn Nash (The Girl), Allison Roddan (Peter Verdoux), Charles Evans (Police Detective Morrow), Margaret Hoffman (Lydia Floray); Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Chaplin; Image Entertainment; 1947)
“Gives one a greater sense of Chaplin’s political breadth from his previous work.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Charlie Chaplin (“The Circus”/”The Kid”/”City Lights”) departed from his “little tramp” comedies and “Monsieur Verdoux” proved to be his greatest commercial failure, but after being hatefully dissed upon its release it has now come to be regarded by many critics as one of his better and more startling works along with “The Gold Rush.” Because the film’s reception was so bad in America and he was faced with a paternity suit by the actress Joan Barry, received hostility from the right and a large segment of the public for his left wing politics supporting the Soviet Union and was questioned by the House of Un-American Activities Committee investigating Communism in Hollywood, Chaplin decided to flee Hollywood to be an exile in a more tolerant Europe. The film is based on an idea by Orson Welles, who based it on the infamous murderer Henri Landru. He was a Frenchman who was executed in 1922 for murdering eight women.
The dark comedy is a Bluebeard tale, with Chaplin playing the suave former honest bank clerk Henri Verdoux who unfairly lost his job after thirty-five years of loyal service during the Depression of 1930 and now supports his invalid wife Mona (Mady Correll) of ten years and young son Peter (Allison Roddan) by having many aliases and marrying at least twelve middle-aged wealthy women and soon eliminating them for their money. He is caught and put on trial, where he gives a courtroom speech advocating his common man philosophy denouncing a hypocritical society that sanctions the rise of dictators and mass killing in a world war but sentences him to the guillotine for killing only a few people. Chaplin’s character was a calculating murderer, and he represented the darkest depths to which man can sink when he feels threatened. The public didn’t find this funny like they did Chaplin’s benign “little tramp” characterization, and one can hardly blame them for not liking the film. But in hindsight, Monsieur Verdoux remains an unusually provocative satirical black comedy that’s subversive and gives one a greater sense of Chaplin’s political breadth from his previous work. According to Chaplain “Von Clausewitz said that war is the logical extension of democracy; M. Verdoux feels that murder is the logical extension of business.” In other words, for Chaplin mankind is basically good but an economic crisis brings out the bad side.
The film’s funniest moments are with Martha Raye, who keep winning lotteries and managing in most amusing ways to luckily defeat every attempt that is made on her life by hubby Chaplin posing as a ship captain.
REVIEWED ON 3/3/2007 GRADE: A-