Monsieur Verdoux 1947

Monsieur Verdoux is a 1947 black comedy film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

The film is about an unemployed banker, Henri Verdoux, and his sociopathic methods of attaining income. While being both loyal and competent in his work, Verdoux has been laid-off. To make money for his wife and child, he marries wealthy widows and then murders them. His crime spree eventually works against him when two particular widows break his normal routine. The film ends as Verdoux is being led to the guillotine in the prison courtyard after dismissing his killing of a few as no worse than the highly-praised killing of large numbers in war.

The script for this film, the idea for it given by Orson Welles, was inspired by the case of serial killer Henri Desire Landru. Welles sought to direct the film with Chaplin as star, but Chaplin backed out at the last minute, on the grounds that he'd never been directed in a full length film before and wasn't willing to start. Instead, Chaplin bought the script from Welles and rewrote parts of it, crediting Welles only with the idea. The lead character kills to make money, hence he is not (in his eyes) a murderer. 

Another story suggests that although the script had yet to be written, Welles wanted Chaplin to play the lead role. Chaplin, deciding that he didn't want to have to write the script with Welles, opted out, saying in effect "If it isn't written yet, I'm not interested." After seeing the film, Welles insisted on receiving a screen credit for the story idea. 

Since the film is a talking picture, there is some comedy in the dialogue as well as some physical comedy. Chaplin tended to work with a repertory company of actors who performed exclusively in Chaplin's films. Monsieur Verdoux,  atypically for a Chaplin film, features some familiar Hollywood actors, including Martha Raye, William Frawley and Fritz Leiber, Sr. Rumors have persisted that Chaplin's 1915-1923 leading lady Edna Purviance made an appearance in the film. Chaplin biographer David Robinson wrote that Purviance did return briefly to the Chaplin Studios and prepared for a small role in the film, but that she did not go before the cameras.

The film was the first to feature no resemblance to Chaplin's famous Tramp" character (The Great Dictator did not feature the Tramp, but his "Jewish barber" bore sufficient similarity), and consequently was poorly received in America when it first premiered. It was, however, more successful in Europe. The film and its dark themes were ill-suited to the American political and cultural climate of the time (less than two years after World War II ended), and Chaplin's popularity and public image had been irrevocably damaged by multiple scandals and political controversies prior to its release.

Chaplin was subjected to unusually hostile treatment by the press while promoting the opening of the film, and some boycotts took place during its short run. At one press conference to promote the film, Chaplin made his speech, then in inviting questions from the press with the words "Proceed with the butchering". Since then, it has gained enough of a following to be considered a cult film. Despite its poor critical and commercial performance, the film was nominated for the 1947 Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). 

In 1964, Chaplin allowed Verdoux to be re-released along with several Chaplin films to play at the New York Plaza as part of a Chaplin film festival. The film was not only the biggest hit of the entire festival, but it broke box-office records for the Plaza. ~Wikipedia Link

Chaplin Collection: A Review by Mark Bourne

"...Subtitled "A Comedy of Murders," this mordant satire features Chaplin, at 58, as Henri Verdoux, an urbane Parisian bank clerk who loses his career in the Great Depression. Verdoux devises another means to care for his dear wheelchair-bound wife and the young son he loves — using make-believe jobs as cover for his travels, he woos rich widows in other cities, marries them, then murders them for their money.

This dapper and charming Bluebeard is the paragon of civilized man. He dotes upon his (legitimate) family. He tut-tuts his boy to not be cruel to animals. As he tends his roses (with an incinerator smoking ominously behind the garden) a caterpillar gives him the willies. He dispatches his victims with a painless poison, proof of his generous nature. And he justifies his murderous activities as simply "business," ruthless and above traditional morality, as defined by our morally confused age. Eventually, Verdoux is caught and loses everything, including his wife and son. But then he becomes the accuser, a murderer taught to kill by the society that spawned him. He stands at his trial and — more as Charles Chaplin than a fictitious character — makes a speech indicting the corrupted ethics and power politics of bourgeois society. "Wars, conflict," he says in prison before his execution, "it's all business. One murder makes a villain. Millions a hero. Numbers sanctify."

Some theaters refused to play Monsieur Verdoux. Theaters that did were picketed by members of Catholic War Veterans and the American Legion. The city of Memphis banned it outright. Because of a scene in which Verdoux's dialogue with a priest is flippant and unrepentant, it was decried as blasphemous. Soon United Artists withdrew it from distribution altogether.

The public had forgiven him his peccadilloes before, during the production of The Circus. Now after twenty years the people and times were different, and zealotry always seeks out convenient targets. So the ad hominem attacks that greeted Monsieur Verdoux killed it as surely as any objective thumbs-down. America's villagers-with-torches treatment climaxed with Chaplin's forced exile in 1952 after the opening of Limelight..." ~Read full article on DVD Journal

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