Classic Movie Review: Monsieur Verdoux (1947)


Title: Monsieur Verdoux
Release Date: April 11, 1947
Director: Charles Chaplin
Production Company: United Artists
Summary/Review:

Charlie Chaplin must’ve seemed like he was around forever by 1947.  He debuted on film in 1914 and swiftly rose to fame so much that he could co-create a film studio, United Artists, and have control over making his own pictures.  Throughout the 1920s he released innovative feature-length comedies.  After the advent of “talkies” Chaplin released his mostly dialogue-free masterpieces City Lights and Modern Times in the 1930s.  His first true talkie, The Great Dictator (1940), satirized fascism and more clearly enunciated Chaplin’s own political views.  By 1947, changing tastes and rumors of Chaplin’s Communist sympathies made him passe in the USA.  He’d been appearing in films since 1914 and again those 34 years must’ve felt like forever (although present day stars like Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks have been active for much longer, so maybe not).

Monsieur Verdoux was not a hit in the US but found an audience in Europe and of course Cahiers du Cinéma put it on their greatest films of all time list.  The movie is set in France during the Great Depression era and Chaplin plays the titular character who also operates under of a number of aliases.  Verdoux is a con artist who marries several women and then murders them for their money.  Chaplin tries to make the character sympathetic by having him be a bank teller laid off because of the Depression who needs to make money to support his disabled wife and child.  But Verdoux is an evil person and no amount of wily roguesnish makes him palatable to me.  When Verdoux is caught at the end and justifies his murders by contrasting them with the violence of governments at war, it feels more self-serving than a righteous critique of society.

The cast of this film is huge and doesn’t include any big stars although Martha Raye (later of Polident ads) and William Frawley (later of I Love Lucy) both appear.  A lot of the performances feels wooden and amateurish.  I did like Marilyn Nash’s performance as The Girl, a houseless woman that Verdoux plans to test a poison on until he learns that her story is similar to his own. Nash’s character the conscience of this film and the scenes between her and Chaplin are when the movie works best.  The rest of the movie seems to be telling several overlapping stories with differences in tone that never really gels for me.  I found it only moderately funny and the underlying cynicism rubbed me the wrong way.

Rating: ***

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