MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947)
Article #1381 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-25-2004
Posting Date: 5-24-2005
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Featuring Charles Chaplin, Mady Correll, Allison Roddan
A former bank clerk tries to support his wife and child by becoming a Bluebeard; he marries and then murders women for their money.
This is only the second time I’ve touched upon Chaplin in my cinematic wanderings through fantastic cinema; the first, a weak caveman comedy (HIS PREHISTORIC PAST) was hardly representative of his work. This one is much better, though the fantastic content (the concept of a serial killer is a common horror theme) is even slighter, and it is also unrepresentative of Chaplin’s work in that it places Chaplin in a role that is so different from his “Little Tramp” character that it’s somewhat jarring. Chaplin is trying to pull off some very difficult tricks here; though he’s a serial killer, Verdoux is not portrayed as unsympathetic. You feel his real love for his family, and you can see that underneath it all there’s a real regret for the circumstances that drove him to his current situation; there’s something very powerful about the scene where he chooses not to test a new poison on a vagrant when he discovers that her life has been very similar to his, but that she has not lapsed into his cynicism. Most of the obvious comedy comes with his scenes with Martha Raye, who plays an incredibly lucky person; not only does she keep winning lotteries, but she manages (through sheer luck) to thwart every attempt that is made on her life.
Despite the comic scenes, the movie is ultimately satirical and has a controversial message. Censors of the time had trouble with the subversive nature of the film, and that is to be expected. This message doesn’t manifest itself until the end of the movie, and it does bear considering even if the very act of doing so leaves you feeling uneasy.