Monsieur Verdoux (1947) Poster

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fine work
gsygsy10 May 2007
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 Brothers.

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.
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Chaplin's Finest Sound Film?
gavin69428 April 2013
A suave but cynical man (Charles Chaplin) supports his family by marrying and murdering rich women for their money, but the job has some occupational hazards.

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.
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"One murder makes a villain; millions a hero. Numbers sanctify."
tanichmsu19 October 2004
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.
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a black comedy of manners; stunning performance from Chaplin
Quinoa19849 July 2008
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?
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"Presents incongruities to an agreeable monster..."
movedout25 March 2007
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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Brilliant black comedy with a very serious message
blanche-222 April 2008
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.
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One of the great "Black" comedies
thinkkam30 March 2000
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.
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A sublime, eloquent Charlie in his finest sound-era vehicle.
gbrumburgh1 March 2001
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 buried 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 co-production 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, the 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.
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"Monsieur Verdoux" was a disaster at the American box-office…
Nazi_Fighter_David31 July 2005
Warning: 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 Christianity—but 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."
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Humor Worth Pondering
dougdoepke10 March 2013
A satire on a serial killer is not your everyday movie fare. I can see why audiences of that day were turned off by the Little Tramp's sudden homicidal turn. Of course, it's all treated with a light comedic hand until the moralizing end. Still, Chaplin's subtext comes through clearly at certain points-, such that unemployment can drive men to extremes when they've got a family to support.

On the other hand, not every man, of course, turns to fleecing rich widows and then dispatching them in cold-blooded fashion. But that brings him to his second point--- namely "numbers sanctify". Kill one person and you're a murderer; kill a thousand and you're a hero. Here it appears he's referring to the state that historically kills by the thousands in the name of the patriotism. Remember, the movie's coming right after the close of the horrific WWII, and he finds the point ironic.

But Verdoux's not through. Capitalism is indirectly indicted for its periodic booms and busts that lead to joblessness, and millions upon millions for munitions manufacturers who prosper during wartime. As for the consolations of religion that come at the end, the gentleman killer appears indifferent without being insulting. Since Chaplin's the sole screenwriter, it's no stretch to believe he's speaking for himself on these matters. Given this rather wholesale indictment of many of the West's leading institutions, small wonder he left the country shortly after under a cloud of controversy.

Nonetheless, the movie hits its comedic highpoints with Martha Raye as the loudly vulgar Annabella. Try as he does to do her in, she manages to comically thwart him at every turn. That scene in the fishing boat's a classic. All his polished charm and oily flattery just slide by her obnoxious silliness. Raye makes a perfect foil and an inspired piece of casting.

Of course, some of the beguiling Little Tramp remains in Verdoux's character, as when he befriends the penniless girl (Nash), or in that supremely ironic moment when he ambles Tramp-style toward the guillotine. All in all, it's a strange little movie that was apparently shelved for years for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, it was rather gutsy for Chaplin to take such chances with his established character and at Cold War's outset. It's fairly humorous until you think about its serious points, which are still worth pondering.
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kyle_furr24 March 2004
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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Far from the Little Tramp
bkoganbing16 January 2014
As Charlie Chaplin put it when the tramp finally talked in The Great Dictator the magic was gone. Chaplin felt he had to come up with another character in order to continue his career and he got away from the lovable Little Tramp as far as he could with Monsieur Verdoux.

A whole lot of people were shocked when Monsieur Verdoux came out and instead of the Tramp we got a Bluebeard murderer. Black comedy was not a genre popular in the USA at that time and a lot of people hated this film. None more so than Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper who as a good conservative Republican cheered on the coming blacklist and beat the drums for Chaplin's deportation. No accident that Chaplin was hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee at the time Monsieur Verdoux came out.

Based on the famous French mass criminal Henry Desire Landru, Monsieur Verdoux tells the story of a bank clerk who lost his job and to support his family started marrying and murdering rich women. Verdoux keeps quite a schedule because he's marrying several of them at the same time. But always returns to wife Mady Correll and son Allison Roddan.

Funniest marriage is to Martha Raye who not only is he unsuccessful in killing, she nearly does him in on a couple of occasions strictly by accident. That raucous laugh might elicit sympathy from a jury if anyone ever heard it and was condemned to live with it even part time.

With the marriage to Raye comes the film's funniest sequence Chaplin trying to kill Raye when they were in a boat on a lake in Switzerland. It will not escape your attention that the sequence is borrowed from Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy which was already filmed in 1931 and would shortly be filmed again in 1951 as A Place In The Sun. Ironic indeed how the same plot gambits can be played for laughs or deadly serious.

Second funniest is Raye showing up at Chaplin's wedding to Isobel Elsom whom he has targeted. It forces him to leave her at the altar not knowing at that time how lucky she was.

Truth be told some of Chaplin's left wing political views are grafted into the film somewhat forcibly. It's what got Hedda Hopper's undergarments in such a twist. Still this an amusing film and not fairly judged by a lot of people at the time it came out.
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Lacks the bite to have the impact it desires.
theskulI4211 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Functioning as a sort of bridge between the cheerful macabre of 1944's Arsenic & Old Lace and the droll 1949 Ealing classic Kind Hearts & Coronets, sits Charles Chaplin's acclaimed 1947 black comedy Monsieur Verdoux. But it's an uncomfortable one, and Chaplin proves unable to stay metaphorically seated for any amount of time.

The film depicts an out-of-work banker's unique way of obtaining income to support his wife & child: he fraudulently marries wealthy widows, and murders them. The film is maddeningly episodic in that, once he finds a few widows that compromise his plans (most notably by continually coming into contact with one another), the film just sort of bounces back and forth between the bland and forgettable Marie Grosnay (Isobel Elsom) and the spectacularly annoying Annabella Bonheur (Martha Raye). The film never truly achieves anything resembling an interest level until its final reels, which are at least sort of intriguing (making a satirical query of why when men order wars that kill hundreds of thousands, they are heroes, but one man kills a small amount, he is severely punished. The sequence is a jarring switch in tone from the previous 90 minutes, but at least it's interesting.

The other problem is that his character, and thus, the film, has no bite to it. Where Arsenic was all about the clash of overplaying and underplaying, and Kind Hearts made me cackle malicious, Verdoux is very matter-of-fact and workmanlike, completely to its detriment. Just because the acts are ho-hum to its character should not mean they are to its audience.

And that's the problem with the film as a whole, it never gets up enough energy and invention to distinguish it from similar, contemporary, and above all far BETTER films. From its comedy to its macabre to its romance to its setpieces, everything feels overly familiar, and done with less verve, and ultimately, less interest.

{Grade: 5/10 (C) / #13 (of 13) of 1947}
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"Business is a ruthless business, my dear."
ackstasis28 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Charles Chaplin's blackest comedy by far, 'Monsieur Verdoux' was released seven years after the phenomenal success of 'The Great Dictator,' to considerable controversy. How, after all, could the legendary actor and director who brought us The Tramp have suddenly set his sights on playing a serial wife-murderer? Originally conceived by Orson Welles – who had envisioned a film about real-life Bluebeard and serial killer Henri Désiré Landru – Chaplin purchased the idea for $5000 and fashioned it into the darkest of dark comedies. Interwoven into this farcical "comedy of murders" is a tragic portrayal of the effect of the Great Depression on struggling families, and Chaplin's own indictment of wartime conflict.

Chaplin leaves us in no doubt that, had it not been for the devastating recession of 1930, Henri Verdoux would never have acquired his wife-killing tendencies. A bank clerk for over thirty years, Verdoux (Chaplin) lost his job at the first signs of economic trouble. In order to sustain his disabled wife (Mady Correll) and young son, both of whom he loves dearly, Verdoux turns to charming lonely old women, marrying them within a few weeks, murdering them and escaping with their savings, leaving barely a trace for detectives to follow.

Despite the dark subject matter, the film is itself a critique of violence and warfare. When finally brought before the court to plead his defence, Verdoux delicately labels himself a minor hero, satirising America's apparent fascination then (and now) with developing more advanced and devastating weapons of mass destruction. "It's just business. That's the history of many a big business. Wars, conflict… it's all business. One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow." The film ends with one of the bleakest images of any comedy, as Henri Verdoux is led slowly towards the guillotine to be executed.

Though Chaplin certainly doesn't condone Verdoux's actions, we are invited to sympathise fully with his plight, and our inclination to see him succeed subtly implies that we ourselves are somehow complicit in the crime. In his "Notes for Verdoux," Chaplin wrote, "it is more important to understand crime than to condemn it." 'Monsieur Verdoux' was produced during a difficult time in Chaplin's life. After America entered World War Two, Chaplin expressed his favour for an alliance with the Soviet Union, leading him to be branded a Communist or a Communist sympathiser. Due to Chaplin's dwindling popularity, the film was boycotted in a number of states, and was his first commercial flop in decades, though it fared better in Europe. Chaplin wrote of the film: "I lent my characters my own embittered reflections. When there are no facts, sentiments prevail."

My description thus far has made the film itself sound awfully depressing and thoroughly unentertaining, but the opposite is actually true. Though Chaplin abandons the comedy in the final few minutes in order to drive home his message (much as he did with the Jewish barber's speech in 'The Great Dictator'), 'Monsieur Verdoux' certainly contains his trademark slapstick comedy in great abundance. His character's antics may be a little less well-intentioned than those of The Tramp, but we can only laugh as Verdoux attempts vainly to assassinate his latest wife, Annabella (Martha Raye) – first by poisoning her wine with a tasteless, traceless mixture he concocted, and then by trying to drown her whilst rowing across an isolated lake in a small rowboat. From beginning to end, 'Monsieur Verdoux' proves that, in 1947, Charles Chaplin was still at the top of his game.
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Something else
Sandcooler22 October 2009
For this one Chaplin mostly ditched his old slapstick antics and went for more of a dark, cynical tone. That idea really works out well in the first half, because it's just really intriguing to watch Chaplin play a cold-blooded killer. It's just so out of the ordinary. Sadly, the movie starts dragging from then on, because the pace is so slow and there is virtually no variation in the scenes. Every scene is Chaplin courting women and occasionally trying to kill them. Also he gets in some funny situations that are not really very funny. Especially the wedding scene goes on for way too long and seems really out of place. Perhaps I would have laughed if it was in a different Chaplin movie, but what is it doing in here? The usual social comments are also involved, but while they were spot-on in "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator", here they're just weird. Apparently our protagonist kills people and takes their money because the economy is so bad and he has no choice (fair enough) and also the real mass murderers are actually the world leaders. To me that doesn't really justify killing bunches of innocent people, but I guess I shouldn't judge. This is an odd thing to see, but the overall style and Chaplin's performance makes some parts worthwhile.
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"The right thing at the wrong moment"
Steffi_P26 June 2012
With the exception of a handful of early shorts, Charlie Chaplin took responsibility for every possible aspect of his creative process, not only starring in his pictures but also writing, producing, directing, editing and even scoring them himself. In the silent era this worked very well because he was a master at the comical ballet of slapstick. When sound arrived however, he found himself struggling with verbal comedy and the inelegance of dialogue.

Monsieur Verdoux is a "comedy of murders" developed from an idea by Orson Welles. It's a decent little story, with a dark theme for both Welles and Chaplin, but one they have melded to a more humanist end. In adapting Welles's outline, Chaplin shows his flair for creating intriguing characters, making his hero a murderer who will rescue a caterpillar from being stepped upon and is filled with love for his wheelchair-bound "true" wife and their young son. As with Chaplin's other talking pictures, the biggest problem in the screenplay is his trite dialogue peppered with a touch of the awkward, such as the son in the first scene describing his mother (or sister; it's not entirely clear) as having feet like submarines.

In his earlier movies Chaplin's style as a director tended towards simplicity, eschewing close-ups and camera moves for long, static takes for the action to unfold in. Now, perhaps in an attempt to appear modern, he is being a bit more adventurous with the camera, but it appears clunky and misguided. Luckily, Chaplin still has his eye for beautiful, iconic moments. His murder of one wife, disappearing into a room offscreen as the sunset shines through an upstairs window, combines the sinisterness of Hitchcock with the grace of Griffith. In another, quite lovely moment, he uses a flower shop telephone to call a would-be wife, but in the foreground we see the overwhelmed reaction of a young florist, utterly convinced of his sincerity.

Chaplin remains, in attempt at least, a slapstick comic, and he tries here and there to grease the narrative of Monsieur Verdoux with a bit of physical comedy. It bears some resemblance to his silent work, but is always accompanied by verbal commentary from the characters, which makes it seem flat, almost mechanical. This is something Chaplin himself feared when the talkies first arrived, but nevertheless he ploughs on with forced routines that seem at odds with the film world going on around them. At least the star himself is still good enough, able to slide from cheeky and comical to stern and serious with ease and credibility.

I think the unfortunate truth is that, with the added complications of sound, the entire process of making a movie was beyond Chaplin's capabilities. If only he had had the humility to allow someone else to co-write with him and come up with some decent dialogue, or handed over directing duties to someone who could better reconcile the comedy and drama. Essentially, Monsieur Verdoux is still a very good movie – Chaplin's genius is still tucked away in there – but it lacks the overall brilliance of his earlier works.
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I Think Than Henri Desire Landru Would Have Approved
theowinthrop1 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
There is a constant effort by the fans of Orson Welles to pinpoint films of importance that he had a hand in even if he did not appear in them or direct them. The two most notable ones are AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, which was based on a 1946 Broadway musical flop that Welles directed and starred in, and MONSIEUR VERDOUX. The former had a score (a bad one) by Cole Porter, and elaborate sets and tricks - and folded after a few months, plunging Welles into bankruptcy. He had to live in Europe afterward due to tax problems. Welles sold his interest in the musical to his producer Mike Todd. And Todd turned around and made his one great film out of AROUND THE WORLD in 1955, without even offering Welles a cameo in it. In 1945-46 Welles also sold a screenplay and idea for a movie about the career of the French Bluebeard murderer Landru to Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin would have been directed by Welles, but instead ended up doing the film himself - and only remembering on giving Welles any credit when Welles pointedly reminded him about it. This was MONSIEUR VERDOUX.

Henri Desire Landru was a criminal and second hand furniture dealer. He was married (legitimately) and from most accounts was a good husband (except for having a mistress) and a good father. But starting in 1917 Landru began romancing a series of middle aged women he met through the matrimonial columns of Paris newspapers, sweeping them off their feet, and then marrying them. He used several country locations (most infamously a nice looking country villa at the town Gambais) to take his brides for disposal: he would take them to the villa, kill them (probably by poison or strangulation) and then burn their bodies in a large stove/fireplace in the house. He may have chosen the villa too because it was near a convenient cemetery - a perfect place to hide corpse remains like bones.

From 1917 to 1919 Landru (as best the authorities figured out) married 12 women and killed them and the son of one of them. He was caught when members of several of the families went to the police about the sudden disappearances of these ladies, and one of the families ran across Landru and tipped off the police. In arresting him they found he had a remarkably exact accounting system regarding the expense of each marriage including the cost of tickets to Gambais (significantly two tickets going, but only one coming back). His trial in 1922 was an international event, and he did not disappoint. An exceptionally clever and even witty man, he actually made the court laugh frequently, until the evidence of mass murder became too evident. He was convicted, and guillotined.

Henri Landru was bald headed and wore a spade beard. Charlie Chaplin, as Landru's screen clone "Henri Verdoux" has white hair, a fancy little mustache, and wears butterfly collars and homburg hats. He is a total dandy - and quite the charmer. He also is able to thrown himself into each different personality and role he plays as the husbands of the various victims. In actual fact he is a bank teller who lost his job - and had a crippled wife and sickly child to take care of. He pretends to be (among other things) a furniture dealer, a retired sea captain, an expert on jewelry (he does show some knowledge of jewelry with one of his wives), and several other types of professionals.

Chaplin, wisely, made most of the women Verdoux romances pretty obnoxious. But he is defeated by one of them - Annabella (Martha Raye, in arguably her greatest comic role). Annabella is a wealthy ex - theater person who has a zest for life, is fairly guileless (she is cheated by two old friends at one point), and has some gross physical habits that disgust the fastidious Henri. But every time he tries to kill her (including a hysterical attempt at drowning her in a rowboat) he gets injured or frustrated. She and only one other one of his would-be victims escape his murder plans.

So does a young woman (Marilyn Nash) whom Landru picks up one night to experiment with using a new poison. But the young woman is so full of promise and shares some of his ideas that he lets her live. Later she will be the last woman he shares a good evening with, but by then she has become the mistress of an arms manufacturer.

Chaplin used the film to rip apart the hypocrisy of modern life - we condemn the Landrus and George Joseph Smiths and Al Capones who use murder for money purposes, but we have a society that insists that building large armed forces are good ideas, that rewards arms manufacturers and perverted scientists making weapons with money and glory. Made after two world wars shattered Europe, and after the Great Depression showed the emptiness of greed, MONSIEUR VERDOUX indicted modern society as nothing else in Chaplin's work had ever done before. It is the most hopeless of his greatest films - for it ends with it's hero going to his doom, and welcoming that doom. For Verdoux knows that unless society can change (and he doubts it will) we will all be following him soon.
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interesting black comedy from Chaplin
MartinHafer26 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
When I first started watching this movie, I felt a strong sense of relief because this film was NOT the same sweet type of film Chaplin was so well-known for making and it was nice to see a change. Nope. Instead, he was a horrible but extremely glib and well-mannered serial killer! The "Little Tramp" was definitely dead and buried! I liked the blackness of this comedy very much but I also found that the longer I watched it, the less I enjoyed the film. Now, it didn't become BAD--not in the least. Instead, it just started to drag and this is one of the few movies I've recently seen that probably should have been significantly shorter. But, because the movie dragged, we are treated to long-winded speeches by Verdoux about the awfulness of the human race--probably mirroring Chaplin's own distaste for life following his fall from grace (after fallout concerning his Socialist leanings AND affairs with underage women). If the film had just ended 20 or 30 minutes earlier we would have been spared this--plus, ending the movie with Verdoux being guillotined isn't exactly a great ending either--there's just nothing humorous about that! Maybe having him get away with the murders or being murdered himself by one of his many wives (who herself turned out to be a serial killer)--that would have been a much better way to wrap up the movie.

I would like to add a few comments about the technical aspects of the film. Once again, Chaplin starred, produced, directed, wrote and did the musical score for the film. An amazing accomplishment, indeed. The music, while decent, is very reminiscent of the music from LIMELIGHT (mad a few years later) but not quite as refined. Everything else was top-notch.

Finally, while I have never been a particular fan of Martha Raye, she was great in the film. That's because of all the MANY wives of Verdoux, I kept rooting for him to kill her!! She was AWFUL and really ANNOYING--so much so that it really added to the film because you found yourself wanting her to be murdered! Now THAT'S an interesting little twist.
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The Tramp is a Killer!
caspian197811 October 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The lovable Tramp that had made audiences laugh for over 30 years had finally spoken in The Great Dictator. Here, the Tramp has taken a 180 degree turn as he becomes a killer! Although funny, the movie is very disturbing. For 1947, the world was not ready to see Chaplin make such a daring movie. With help from friend and fellow film maker Orson Welles, Chaplin shocked the American audience with his most daring film yet. Much of the film is funny as Chaplin still shows his "tramp" like character inside. The money counting scene is straight out of Buster Keaton's comedy classic: The Haunted House. Still, with its comedic under-tones, the movie is still disturbing with its subject matter of murder. The ending with Chaplin's last walk to his death, you can't help but watched as "The Tramp" walks away from the camera / audience like he has in many of his classic films. Here, his feet remain pointing in front of him and not to his side like the Tramp we once knew. His second to last (true) film, his last before he would make Limelight, Chaplin pushed the envelop again with this "killer" movie.
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Unwanted Talents
tedg16 May 2006
The story IN this movie is of a man, a bank teller who is laid off. He has a crippled wife (okay to say "crippled" in those days) and a sweet kid, both of which he loves dearly. So he embarks on a second career of murdering women. He gets caught and gives a speech about the inhuman forces of society that drove him to that state because it didn't appreciate his talent. The story OF this movie is amazingly similar as Chaplin tries to reinvent himself as all his worlds have collapsed.

Most of the movie is of his escapades. We are supposed to be charmed by his methodical approach contrasted with his ruthless morality. At the same time, there is his almost trademarked folding: Chaplin playing a character who himself is acting, and within those folds are all sorts of ambiguities about whether he enjoys it. He may be enjoying the seductions and possibly the accompanying ravishment — this notion is introduced early on in the first seduction we see, one that goes on for much of the screen time.

The interesting thing about this is how it began: a real life villain, an idea of Orson Welles' to bring Chaplin back in triumph. One wonders whether Welles could have pulled it off with all the combined foibles both men would have brought to the project, both famous as poor collaborators.

Well, we know that Chaplin alone couldn't handle his own story; we know that the folds enveloped and smothered him. His was able to master them in his next venture by quite literally taking the persona of a washed up clown.

Both that and this feature a young woman at risk who he helps and in his moment of greatest need is repaid.

Ted's Evaluation -- 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.
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scarbo1 February 2001
I don't agree with the comment I've just read (by Wayne ?). Is the moral of this film as simple as it seems ? Is it simple to accept that a man, after having killed women, quietly returns to his family, kisses his children and cares for his handicapped wife ? As far as the final speech is concerned, there does not seem to be any pacific message ; rather it is an ambiguous observation concerning where is the true violence, and who are the most dangerous criminals. The last sequence is quite admirable : a man who is going to die a few minutes later, accepts to disgust a glass of rhum, and discovers a totally unexpected pleasure. Until the very moment of death, life is worth to be lived
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Dire Chaplin Black Farce
stryker-55 January 1999
A prissy bank clerk is made redundant during the Depression and turns to courting and murdering spinsters and widows for their money.

Apparently, Orson Welles suggested the idea of this film to Chaplin, and may even have outlined the story. The screenplay is Chaplin's own, and contains his characteristic shortcomings. He also directed the film and composed the music, quite apart from starring in it. His achievement is considerable, but the film's weaknesses are also very much attributable to him.

A preliminary point needs to be made. Chaplin is irredeemably old-fashioned. This film was made in 1947, the year of modern-spirited films like "Brighton Rock" and "Germania Anno Zero". Yet here is Chaplin in what is essentially a silent movie with sound. Caption cards say things like "A small villa, somewhere in the south of France". The settings are very stagey and static, being a succession of boxy theatrical sets, linked by establishing shots (sometimes poor-quality archive film). Chaplin ventures out on location only once - in the boating scene near the end. The humour belongs back in the silent era too - as when Verdoux's piano-playing is interrupted by the knocking of Louise the maid on the window, or Verdoux swats an imaginary bee and falls through the window.

The film is outmoded, not just in the way it's put together, but in its 'feel'. The blocking of the actors is stodgy and static, and the acting is hammy. Chaplin plays Verdoux as a stereotype Frenchman, with beret, imperiale moustache and artist's smock. He even says "Oh la la". Chaplin worked in Paris during the bel epoque, and in "Monsieur Verdoux" he is psychologically fixed in that earlier era.

The plot creaks dreadfully. We start with the Couvais family railing against the absent Verdoux. They lay down plot points in the crudest fashion, saying things like "Look what he's done already," and enumerating Verdoux's ploys. Verdoux's intentions regarding Mme. Grosnay are tediously predictable and horribly longwinded. On a cafe terrace in Paris, Verdoux meets a former banking colleague, then takes his leave immediately. This clumsily contrived scene happens so that the banker can tell another man (and therefore the viewer) about Verdoux's past. Verdoux gives the viewer information about his plans via the unsubtle device of thinking aloud. There are enough ludicrously convenient coincidences to make even ardent Chaplin fans cringe. His neighbour in the country just happens to be a talkative pharmacist who has been conducting experiments into an untraceable poison. The Belgian girl (a pretty but wooden Marilyn Nash) is released from prison on the exact same day as Verdoux needs a rootless "derelict" on whom to test his poison. The jailbird just happens to have with her a copy of Schopenhauer, leading to a discussion of his treatise on suicide. She just happens to have an invalid husband, the only thing that could soften Verdoux's heart, because he, too just happens to have a disabled spouse. Annabella is saved from murder by the arrival of a ridiculous band of (unseen) yodellers at the boating lake. And when Verdoux finally arranges a wedding with Mme Grosnay, Annabella just happens to be a wedding guest.

The film is annoying in other ways. Chaplin insists on giving Verdoux the behavioural tic of pursing his lips effeminately. This wears thin after a few seconds, but we have to endure it for two hours (which is about twice as long as this movie needed to be). When Verdoux strolls along Parisian boulevards, people are sporting the fashions of 1947, even though Verdoux was guilloutined ten years before this. Chaplin cannot resist a cliche can-can scene, and stages it badly, with the girls performing at the same time as the customers are dancing with one another. Once he has prepared his poison wine, Verdoux suddenly and inexplicably speaks directly to the camera - "And now for the experiment!" This is a flagrant breach of the film's conventions, to no good effect. On the second meeting with the Belgian girl, Verdoux is cold towards her for no discernible reason. The sidestep which allows Verdoux to lock his pursuers in the broom closet is plain silly. The avoidance of Annabella at the wedding is an example of Chaplin's tendency to stretch a weak joke to maddening lengths of obviousness. And of course, Chaplin just has to fulminate against Hitler and Mussolini, even though the Second World War had finished two years earlier.

Chaplin didn't know what he wanted to do with Verdoux. The black comedy elements are never strong, and Chaplin being Chaplin, he cannot resist big 'dramatic' scenes like the death of Lydia and the walk to the scaffold. The final proposition - that Verdoux is a nice guy compared to the Nazis - is an insult to the viewer. Verdoux is an ogre, but Chaplin is pulled, as always, towards maudlin sentimentality.

In his final speech from the dock, Verdoux opines that "... to be successful in anything, one must be well-organised". It is a shame that Chaplin didn't heed his own advice. The film is subtitled, "A Comedy Of Murders". Perhaps it should have read, "The Murder Of Comedy".
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Intensely consuming
returning28 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Chaplin's career is often separated into his silent era and his sound era, and it is generally recognized that talking actors wasn't the only change to his films. During the war years, film stock was limited, even to the most famous of directors. So Chaplin, infamous for his exorbitant number of takes, had to exchange meticulousness in selecting which cut to use for meticulousness in the planning of the film from the start. And it shows, especially in this film. The haunting staircase shots, the gorgeous interiors, and dialogue as clever as ever was written. His sound films were also less episodic, any gags are brief and contribute more to the plot than any of his silent ones.

But there is a continuity throughout his entire career. Tragedy and comedy really aren't that different; both are rooted in human emotion and often accentuated by circumstances and coincidences. In an early film, it would all culminate in a hilarious climax. Here, it is coincidence that gets him caught.

And he still simply loves being in front of the camera. Except, instead of turning and shrugging at the camera or some other more explicit gesture, we get subtle glances.

His monologues from his sound films will always stand out, but this film has Chaplin's best moments as a director (the staircase shot of the first murder), as a comedic actor (when he thinks he's been poisoned), and as a writer (the scene in the boat).

5 out of 5 - Essential
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Very disappointing "classic"
aromatic-27 March 2000
Supposedly a classic, I considered just trying to make it through this movie to be excruciating. Extraordinarily stilted and poorly balanced. Martha Raye is absolutely dreadful, and Chaplin is worse. I just cannot understand why this exercise in absurdity is so highly rated.
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Perhaps Chaplin's greatest talking moment.
Boba_Fett11381 December 2009
Charlie Chaplin is of course best known for the slapstick work he did in the silent period. He however made some equally good and also equally funny talky movies, of which this movie is perhaps his greatest moment as a talking actor.

In a way the movie got made like and old fashioned Chaplin movie, in terms of the character's approach, the story and also the humor. This movie has still some slapstick moments in it but it foremost is a comedy that relies on its story and acting performances. It's a more subtle and darker comedy, without being an heavy one. I still wished the movie would had some more slapstick humor in it, since the movie begins so incredibly well and promising with this. Perhaps this was done on intention to let people think this movie was going to be simply like a classic Chaplin movie.

The movie foremost is a great accomplishment from Chaplin himself, who hadn't made a movie for 7 years before completing this one. As always he didn't just starred in it but also wrote and directed the movie. With "The Great Dictator" he had already shown before that he could come out of the silent movie era and still make some great comedies and with this movies he shows his talents once more. He also with this movie shows that he can play other comedy characters just as effectively, without portraying the tramp with his cane and bowler. You also have to remember that Chaplin was close at being 60 years old already at the time of this production but his never ever showed on screen. Instead it looked liked they had to use heavy make-up in the later scenes to really make him look like an 'older' guy.

Basically Chaplin's performance is what makes this movie such a great one to watch. He shows that he was a real great actor and not just comical-wise. It's a great role and he also brings out the best of the other actors. Martha Raye was for instance also real enjoyable in her role.

The movie its story itself got based on true story and the first script for it got written by Orson Welles. It still seems like a quite odd thing to set a comedy around a lady-killer, who seduces widows for their money before killing them off. No surprise that the movie had some controversy surrounding it at the time. But that's what makes black comedies also often such strong ones. It doesn't use everyday normal characters but instead focus on the more downsides of life and the true nature of people and their struggle for survival in a tough world.

A late Charles Chaplin movie that is perhaps his greatest talking moment, actor-wise.

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