I’ve yet to meet a Chaplin I didn’t like. Granted, there are some I like much more than others and I have not been through his entire oeuvre, but the love affair that began with 1992’s Chaplin continues through to this day. Last night I had the privilege of seeing one his later works: 1947’s Monsieur Verdoux. Billed as a dark comedy / comedy of murder, it is certainly all that and more.
Chaplin plays the titular Verdoux who is quite a cad, philanderer, bluebeard & sociopath all in one. He does have one genuine moment of feeling/empathy (clip at bottom) which causes him to stay his hand only once. For most of the movie he is fooling any number of his many wives while ruthlessly trying to cover his tracks and his stock margins. He is dangerously clever while flatteringly cordial. It’s impossible not to like him, that is, until he acts upon his desperation. Ice in his veins and little sign of remorse leave me with no other choice than to agree justice is served at the end, but his antics are so over the top it’s hard not to war within yourself and wish a happier ending for him.
The supporting cast is plentiful and I would be hard pressed to identify them all. Of his wives (or wives to be) Martha Raye‘s Annabella is the one who made me laugh out loud every time she appeared onscreen. Though she displayed a personality that could at best be described as annoying, I commented to my wife, “I couldn’t stand a person like this in real life, but I can get enough of her in this movie.” The other ladies are varying degrees of silliness to seriousness, but the most real of them all comes from Marilyn Nash who plays a young woman just released from jail and ready to start her life over again. In one of the film’s most suspenseful scenes, she meets Chaplin’s Verdoux at a time when he is testing a poison to do away with Annabella.
In order to make sure the poison is untraceable (as a drugstore friend suggested it is in animals) Verdoux endeavors to find a vagrant to test it on. The utilitarian [I think I need a better word here] suggestion should at once convince us that this man has no feeling whatsoever, but the Tramp still lies behind that mustache so how can we not go along with the ride? However, at just the moment he is ready to do the deed, they strike up a deep conversation and he is moved to change his course of action (at least for the moment). In this scene and others we are shown that he in fact saves her from whatever life she could have had. In return she ends up saving him from the life he was escaping.
Monsieur Verdoux was a delight, however the opening 5 minutes tried my patience. The family involved is so boring and coarse that I wondered what I had gotten myself into. They were supposed to be in France but everyone’s Hollywood wiseguy accents almost turned me off. But the moment Chaplin is shown onscreen the world was right again and the story enveloped me.
The DVD I viewed is part of the Chaplin Collection from Warner/MK2. The transfer is sharp, sound is good, extras (for the collection) are plentiful. Recommended!
Poster photo taken from allocine.fr