Cast & Crew
From his grave, the spirit of Henri Verdoux, who was an honest French bank clerk until the stock market crash of 1930, tells the story of how he began "liquidating" the opposite sex in order to support his wife and son: In Paris, the quarrelsome Couvais family worries about their relative Vilma, who married a man named M. Varnay--one of Henri's aliases--after a two-week courtship, emptied her bank account and has not been heard from in three months. Meanwhile, in a villa in the south of France, Henri, who has burned Vilma's body in his incinerator, receives her money in the mail and immediately telephones his stockbroker about investing it. Calling himself M. Varnay, Henri then introduces himself to Marie Grosnay, a wealthy Parisian widow who is interested in buying the villa. Henri frightens Marie with his abrupt, intense romantic overtures, and she leaves the house in a panic. The Couvaises, meanwhile, go to the police about Vilma and learn that Detective Morrow suspects that a modern-day "Bluebeard" has murdered twelve missing women over the past three years. Later, in Paris, Henri receives word from his stockbroker that he needs fifty thousand francs by the morning, so he visits one of his wives, Lydia Floray. Henri tells the sour-faced Lydia that he has been building bridges in Indochina but was forced to return to France suddenly because of a growing financial crisis. Insisting that the crisis will cause a run on the local banks, Henri convinces Lydia to withdraw all of her savings from the bank, and then kills her. The next day, Henri returns home to his wheelchair-bound first wife Mona, whom he loves, and their devoted son Peter. In honor of their tenth wedding anniversary, Henri presents the unsuspecting Mona with the deed to their house and speaks lovingly about their marriage. Claiming to have pressing business, Henri takes a train to Lyon the following day to see wife Annabella, an impressionable loud mouth who has won the lottery, and who believes he is a sea captain named Louis Bonheur. After several unsuccessful attempts to kill Annabella, Henri ransacks her room to find her money and leaves again for Paris. There, Henri arranges for flowers to be sent to Marie twice a week for a two-week period. Later, during a visit with Mona, Henri learns about a lethal potion that causes a painless death and cannot be traced in an autopsy if used on a woman. Back in Paris, Henri, posing as a furniture salesman, offers shelter to a beautiful Belgian refugee who has just been released from prison. Henri plans to test his new poison on her, but when she talks about her love for her invalid veteran husband, who died while she was in jail, he is instead moved to help her and gives her money. Later, Detective Morrow, who has been trailing Henri for weeks, arrests him for bigamy and fourteen murders, but Henri pours him the poisoned wine, killing him as he escorts his prisoner on a train. Escaping unnoticed, Henri next tries to poison Annabella, but his potion is inadvertently switched with a peroxide bottle by the maid. Later, he attempts to drown Annabella in a lake, but once again fails. In Paris, Henri finally convinces Marie to marry him, but when Annabella shows up unexpectedly at the wedding as someone's guest, Henri is forced to flee. As Marie and the Couvais family prepare to have Henri arrested, the stock market crashes, and Henri loses all of the assets for which he murdered. The Depression gives rise to a crisis in Europe and the rise of dictators. Years later, Henri meets the Belgian woman, who has become wealthy through marriage to a munitions manufacturer, and tells her that he has lost all his money, his family, and his will to live. While Henri dines with her at the top of the Eiffel Tower, he is recognized by the Couvaises and turns himself in. Before he is sentenced at his trial, Henri states that the world, which is busy building mass weapons of destruction, encourages mass killing, making Henri an amateur by comparison. Later, as he is about to be executed, Henri tells a reporter, "One murder makes a villain, millions a hero." When a priest asks Henri to make his peace with God, he states that his problem is with man, then is led to the guillotine.
Bernard J. Nedell
James T. Corrigan
Best Writing, Screenplay
With a story like that, it's not a stretch to imagine why the public was turned off - not when the story was coming from Chaplin. As the tramp, Chaplin represented man's brightest side and best qualities, and just the sight of him on screen was enough to elicit sympathy. Verdoux, on the other hand, was a calculating murderer, and he represented the depths to which man can sink. Audiences just weren't ready to deal with such an unexpected transformation of Chaplin's image or, for that matter, with such an angry attack on society.
Monsieur Verdoux has its genesis in Orson Welles, who in 1941 came up with the idea of a movie based on the infamous murderer Henri Landru, a Frenchman who was executed in 1922 for murdering eight women. Welles called his story Lady Killer and asked Chaplin to star in it with Welles directing. Chaplin did not want to be directed by anyone else and turned him down; since Welles still thought Chaplin was perfect for the role, he sold him the concept for $5000 and the provision that Welles would receive a screen credit for the idea. (Chaplin agreed, but he did not add Welles' credit to the titles until after the bad reviews started to pour in. Welles complained wryly, "The next day - after they'd all said, 'Who gave him this awful idea?' - up on the screen went my billing.") Chaplin wrote for three years. It was the first time he'd ever written a complete script, as all his prior films had been more or less improvised. By the time it was finished, Chaplin said, "there wasn't a gesture that wasn't written out."
These were troubled years for Chaplin. He was being sued by an old friend for plagiarizing The Great Dictator (1940), a case Chaplin eventually settled. More damagingly, he was accused by actress Joan Barry of fathering her child out of wedlock. Even though blood tests proved this could not have been the case, Chaplin was found guilty and forced to pay child support. (Blood tests were inadmissible as evidence at that time.) Furthermore, in his vocal support of the Soviet Union at a time of growing anti-Communist hysteria, Chaplin was sowing the seeds for his eventual political exile. These episodes and the public outcry they generated may well have had an impact on the angry philosophizing that Chaplin wrote into Verdoux's courtroom speeches.
Either way, audiences and critics didn't especially care - they just didn't like it. "A woeful lack of humor or dramatic taste," said the New York Herald Tribune. "It is a pity to see so gifted a motion picture craftsman taking leave of his audience." Chaplin vigorously defended his film, telling The New York Times, "I saw a great chance to take a tragedy and satirize it, as I did with Nazi Germany in The Great Dictator. Crime becomes an absurdity when it is shown incongruously, out of proportion. Under the proper circumstances, murder can be comic¿.Von Clausewitz said that war is the logical extension of democracy; M. Verdoux feels that murder is the logical extension of business. But he is never morbid, and the picture is by no means morbid in treatment."
Chaplin did have a few supporters. James Agee, writing in The Nation, famously praised the film, describing it as ahead of its time and as "high among the great works of the century." Director Luis Bunuel called Monsieur Verdoux and The Gold Rush Chaplin's two best films. And Hollywood expressed its admiration by nominating Chaplin's screenplay for an Oscar®. In hindsight, Monsieur Verdoux remains a fascinating, unusual, and provocative departure from Chaplin's previous work.
Producer/Director: Charles Chaplin
Screenplay: Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles
Cinematography: Roland Totheroh
Film Editing: Willard Nico
Art Direction: John Beckman
Music: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin (Henri Verdoux), Ada-May (Annette), Marjorie Bennett (Marie's Maid), Isobel Elsom (Marie Grosnay), Audrey Betz (Mme. Bottello), Marilyn Nash (The Girl).
by Jeremy Arnold
The Chaplin Collection, Volume 2 on DVD
The best way to begin the set is with the Richard Schickel documentary. Considering the sheer volume of Chaplin's artistic output and his tumultuous personal life, Schickel does a good job of condensing it all into a 133-minute running time; he even incorporates a generous selection of clips from Chaplin's most important works. Film historians and Chaplin biographers David Robinson, David Thomson, Jeanine Basinger and Jeffrey Vance lend the film scholarly weight. For me, the most interesting parts of the documentary were the remarkably preserved color home movies and the recollections by several of his children. The testimonies by contemporary filmmakers and actors are generally insightful, though there is perhaps too much of that sort of thing. For example, mime artist Bill Irwin's footage easily could have been removed without compromising the film as a whole.
Thankfully, the documentary doesn't shy away from the more controversial aspects of Chaplin's life, namely his attraction to young women (or rather, girls) and his leftist sympathies. If I do have a criticism of Schickel's documentary in this respect, it is a question of emphasis. The decision by the INS to deny Chaplin the right of re-entry to the U.S. in September 1952 seems somewhat abrupt the way it is presented in the documentary, but it was in fact the culmination of years of harassment by the INS and dogged surveillance by the FBI, to say nothing of soured public opinion toward the actor. Chaplin biographers have reported, for example, that The American Legion picketed Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight (1952), effectively ruining both films' box office prospects. Seen in that light, Chaplin's decision not to return to the U.S. is more readily understandable. Fortunately, this issue is treated in more detail elsewhere in the set. Still, this is a minor quibble with an otherwise absorbing and well-produced documentary.
The 2-disc set titled The Chaplin Revue covers the shorts produced for First National from 1918 to 1923. Shot at the newly constructed Chaplin Studios and distributed by First National Exhibitor's Circuit, these films contain longer and more complex narratives than his earlier two-reelers produced for Essanay and Mutual, and they show Chaplin expanding the boundaries of his screen persona. These films are also noteworthy for their more elaborate production design; Shoulder Arms, for instance, contains surprisingly realistic reconstructions of World War I trenches. In 1959, Chaplin trimmed down A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms and The Pilgrim and compiled them into a single 2-hour feature--the original The Chaplin Revue--adding a prologue using footage from the unreleased How to Make Movies, brief introductions to each of the films, and musical scores that he himself composed in collaboration with Eric James. It is this version that makes up the second disc, while the first disc contains the remaining four films. On the copy I purchased, the discs are misprinted: Disc 1 is labeled as Disc 2, and vice versa.
In A Dog's Life, the Tramp takes on a canine companion--an abandoned mutt not unlike himself--while he attempts to woo a saloon-hall girl. He stumbles across some stolen loot and plans to take the girl away with him to the country, but the thieves try to steal the money back. One of the best First National shorts, A Dog's Life somehow succeeds at transforming the sordid world of urban poverty and crime into hilarious comic gags, from the Tramp's fruitless attempts to fight his way to the front of the employment line to his stealing food from a street vendor's cart. In its unsparing treatment of poverty and its use of a comic sidekick, the film looks forward to Chaplin's even more accomplished feature-length debut, The Kid. Shoulder Arms uses Charlie's persona to celebrate the courage of ordinary fighting men while poking fun at the ordeals of trench warfare. The film was a tremendous popular success, not least with war veterans. In The Pilgrim, Chaplin plays an escaped convict who steals a preacher's outfit and poses as a minister in a small town. The highlight of this film is a madcap church service culminating in a sermon on David and Goliath delivered in pantomime. Special features on this disc include extended scenes from Shoulder Arms deleted before its initial release; The Bond (1918), a crude but amusing propaganda film promoting the sale of war bonds, and the reconstructed, previously unreleased 16-minute short How to Make Movies (1918), which combines footage of Chaplin's new studio being built with a humorous take on the film production process.
Although generally considered one of the lesser First National films, Sunnyside nonetheless contains some clever gags inspired by its rural setting. Here Chaplin plays a daydreaming clerk at a small-town hotel; he is forced to compete for his girlfriend's attentions with a visiting city slicker. The weakest film of the batch is A Day's Pleasure; hastily shot to appease First National while Chaplin worked on The Kid, its narrative is less solidly constructed and some of its gags, especially those involving seasickness on the boat, are overly reminiscent of earlier films. Even in his major films Chaplin often recycled older routines, but here one doesn't get the same sense of refinement and invention that distinguish his best routines. The strongest film on the second disc is The Idle Class, in which Chaplin plays twin roles: the familiar Tramp and an alcoholic, wealthy husband. It contains one of Chaplin's classic bits as a comedian: we assume that the husband is sobbing when his wife leaves him a note condemning his alcoholism, but in reality he is merely shaking up another cocktail. In Pay Day the setting is a construction site, where Charlie has to labor all day in order to take money home to his shrewish wife. Once again, Chaplin displays a knack for turning a depressing social milieu into rich comic material. Special features on this disc include a deleted scene from Sunnyside, footage of Chaplin clowning around with the British Music Hall comedian Harry Lauder, and footage of visitors to the Chaplin Studio--among them fellow comedian Max Linder and Prince Axel of Denmark.
Chaplin worked for over a year on his first feature, The Kid (1921), and the degree of care that went into it is reflected in the luminous finished product. The film is remarkable for its evocation of poverty; the slum scenes are at times as tellingly detailed as Lewis Hine photographs. Jackie Coogan's performance is rightly regarded as one of the great child performances of all time. Not only does he provide the ideal companion for Chaplin's gags, his more emotional scenes have a conviction and a purity of expression that has never been equaled. An instructive lesson in Chaplin's skill as a director, if only by way of contrast, is provided by My Boy (1921), a subsequent Jackie Coogan vehicle included as a bonus on the second disc of this title. The basic situation is similar: Coogan plays an immigrant orphan boy who is taken in by a crusty old seaman until he is reunited with his wealthy grandmother. However, that film's direction is uninspired compared to The Kid and Coogan, while undeniably talented, does not display nearly the emotional range that Chaplin was able to evoke from him.
A Woman of Paris (1923), Chaplin's second feature and his first film for United Artists, marked a decisive break both in terms of Chaplin's complete absence as an actor--except for an unbilled cameo--and the film's serious intentions. Edna Purviance, Chaplin's favorite leading lady at this time, plays Marie St. Clair, a young French woman who is thrown out of her house when she announces her intention to marry. She takes the train to Paris, where she becomes the mistress of a wealthy playboy (played by a perfectly cast Adolphe Menjou). Tragic complications ensue when her former fiance meets her again years later. At the time, critics regarded it as a milestone in its subtlety of acting, but the public showed little interest in a Chaplin film that didn't star Chaplin himself. In retrospect, A Woman of Paris is one of the best dramatic films of the Twenties; it set the mold for the worldly comedies of Ernst Lubitsch starting with The Marriage Circle (1924), which also starred Adolphe Menjou. Unfortunately, the film's commercial failure, which was deeply painful to Chaplin, foreclosed a promising path in his creative development. Special features on this disc include: deleted shots; footage of Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith signing the contract for United Artists; and Camille (1926), an utterly bizarre home-movie riff on La Dame aux Camelias featuring, among others, such luminaries as Chaplin, Paul Robeson, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Clarence Darrow, Alfred Knopf, Ethel Barrymore, Dorothy Gish and W. Somerset Maugham!
The Circus (1928) was Chaplin's most troubled production, drawn out over two years due to interruptions such as an exceptionally ugly divorce case and the complete destruction of the circus set by fire. Miraculously, the resulting film is a perfectly judged balancing act of virtuoso comedy--unmatched to this day for sheer belly laughs--and a poignant, classically structured narrative. The Tramp, wrongly accused of being a pickpocket, flees the police and winds up in a circus. There he befriends and falls in love with a young circus rider who is mistreated by her father, the circus proprietor. The latter is portrayed as a sneering, mustachioed villain. The Tramp's unintentional pratfalls become the hit of the circus, but his plans to woo the daughter are complicated when the dashing high-wire artist Rex joins the troupe. The genius of the film is not that the story or gags break new ground per se--indeed, everything here is already familiar, as Chaplin clearly intended. Rather, Chaplin distills the conventionalized narrative and comic elements into a self-reflexive commentary on the nature of comedy and performance. Although the film was enthusiastically received during its initial release, over the years it has been shamefully neglected by critics, even by Chaplin himself, who associated the film with the difficulties he suffered while making it. Now The Circus can reclaim its rightful place among his masterpieces. Special features on the disc include: a reconstructed, unused sequence in which the Tramp gets into a fistfight with twin boxers; outtakes from the same sequence; excerpts from another Jackie Coogan vehicle, Circus Day; and home movie footage of Chaplin shot by Lord Louis and Lady Mountbatten
City Lights (1931), Chaplin's first film of the sound era, was even longer in production than The Circus because of his meticulous working methods. Once again, this shows in the perfection of the finished product. The film's plot has become legendary: the Tramp befriends a blind flower girl, who mistakes him for a millionaire. He perpetuates her illusion while attempting to raise money for an operation to restore her sight. The finale, in which the Tramp visits the girl after she can see again, is rightly regarded as one of the pinnacles of screen acting; the same material would have been cloyingly sentimental in another director's hands, but in Chaplin's it is sweetly understated and still has lost none of its power to move. Standout gags in the film include the famed boxing match, so often described as "balletic," and the moment when the Tramp, dressed as a wealthy man, jumps out of his convertible to fight with a fellow tramp for a discarded cigar butt. While Chaplin decided that the film would have to be silent--that he couldn't give his Tramp an actual voice--his use of the soundtrack nonetheless demonstrates mastery of the newly developed sound medium: not only did Chaplin compose the score himself, but at several points he cleverly integrated sound effects with the visual gags, such as when he swallows a whistle at a party. Ultimately, I prefer the more energetic pacing and even tighter narrative construction of The Circus, but one can only admire City Lights for its grace and its coherent artistic vision.
Monsieur Verdoux (1947) was one of Chaplin's few flops in the U.S. due to its ruthless black comedy and the political controversies plaguing Chaplin at that time. Inspired by the real-life French serial killer Henri Landru, it depicts a fired bank clerk, Henri Verdoux, who maintains a placid home life while simultaneously wooing, marrying, then murdering several women for their money. In spite of its production constraints, the film is brilliant in the way it manipulates audience identification with the murderer: the victims are largely physically unattractive, crass and shrewish, making us glad to be rid of them. At the same time, Verdoux himself is cultured and supremely sensitive, if a bit dandyish. However, when we see Verdoux at home with his "real" wife, child, and friends, maintaining a facade of innocence and normality, it leaves a queasy feeling in our stomachs. Chaplin jerks the viewer's emotions around further with the sprightly music on the soundtrack that accompanies Verdoux while he concocts his murderous schemes. The culmination of this strategy is probably the moment when Verdoux, having perfected his formula for an untraceable poison, rubs his hands together, faces the camera and says, "And now, for the experiment." Finally, Chaplin uses the figure of Verdoux to make some acidic commentary on the murderous nature of capitalism itself. Fans of Hollywood character actors will particularly relish the presence of comedienne Martha Raye as the loudmouthed lottery winner. Special features include film posters, radio commercials and sketches for the sets.
The last film in the collection is A King in New York (1957), which is packaged together with A Woman in Paris. A rambling satire of American values, it stars Chaplin as King Shadov, who has fled a revolution in his country and settled in New York. Robbed of his finances (or rather, the country's finances) by a corrupt minister, he is reduced to appearing in television commercials. The best part of the film is the second half, which turns into a bitter attack on McCarthyism. King Shadov befriends a precocious--and obnoxious--young boy named Rupert (played pitch-perfect by Chaplin's son Michael) who constantly spouts political diatribes. When the boy's parents are called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refuse to name names, he is seized by the authorities and King Shadov, tarnished by his association with the child of political outcasts, is summoned before HUAC as well. Given the film's forthright critique of Red Scare paranoia, it's hardly surprising that it wasn't shown in the U.S. until 1976. Special features include deleted scenes and footage of Chaplin conducting the orchestra during rehearsals for the soundtrack recording.
In terms of special features, one of the most distinctive touches on the box set is the series of short films titled Chaplin Today that accompany each of the feature films. About 25 minutes each, they include interviews with contemporary filmmakers such as Abbas Kiarostami, Liv Ullmmann, Claude Chabrol, Emir Kusturica and animator Peter Lord. While not all the interviews are equally illuminating, the episodes usually contain additional background information not covered in the Schickel documentary or in David Robinson's introductions. The installment for A King in New York is probably the best in the collection, providing an excellent overview of the film's controversial reception and an eloquent defense of the film by Jim Jarmusch.
THE VERSIONS USED
The versions of the silent films used on this box set were those prepared for reissue by Chaplin himself, mostly created in the 1970s with the exception of the 1959 Chaplin Revue. For these versions Chaplin often cut brief scenes, added his own musical scores, and in some cases used stretch printing to slow the action, since most modern film projectors run only at 24 frames per second. While on the surface it would seem that using the "authorized" versions is the preferred way to present Chaplin's films, this in fact does not always show the films to their best advantage. First, it must be said up front that Chaplin did not always display the best judgment later in life when reworking his own films. The most notorious example of this is his 1942 reissue version of The Gold Rush (1923), which is contained in Volume 1 of The Chaplin Collection. Hoping to create a version that would play better to modern audiences, Chaplin removed the title cards and added his own voiceover narration explaining the action. Today the result is all but unwatchable, but fortunately in that set a restored print of the original silent version has been included as a bonus on the second disc.
The cuts Chaplin made in the films included on Volume 2 may have tightened up their pacing, but sometimes at the expense of character development. A good example of this is in the original version of A Woman of Paris: during the confrontation between Marie and her father we see a close-up of a photograph of Marie's mother; the frame is decorated with a black ribbon. This shot was cut from the reissue version, in which we see the portrait only in long shot. While this detail may seem superfluous, the close-up serves to emphasize the motivation behind the father's harsh treatment of his daughter: after losing his wife, he is afraid to be left alone and thus doesn't want Marie to get married. This touch is in keeping with the generous humanistic vision of Chaplin's film, which encourages sympathy toward all the characters, even when they are doing things hurtful to others. Without the added emphasis of the close-up, the father comes off as somewhat less sympathetic. While such deleted shots are often included as extras on the Warner/MK2 box set, they have not been included in every case. Besides, I would argue that the original release versions in most cases still play better as films. In that respect, I tend to prefer the now out-of-print 1993 versions of the same films prepared by David Shepard for CBS Fox on laserdisc and subsequently released on DVD by Image Entertainment. One notable exception is A King in New York, where Chaplin's cuts arguably improved the film's pacing without losing anything essential.
Considering the remarkable improvements in video transfer technology over the last decade, one would expect the transfers for the new MK2/Warner set to be superior to the older DVD releases. Surprisingly, this is not always the case. On the whole, the new transfers do display the increased sharpness and improved rendering of contrast that one would expect; this is especially true for the full-length feature films. However, because the MK2/Warner set transfers were originally made in PAL and simply converted to NTSC for the American release, there is slight but persistent "ghosting," especially in scenes with fast motion. In addition, in the First National films, particularly A Dog's Life and The Idle Class, the actors' movement appears jerky compared to the Shepard transfers; most likely this is because of the aforementioned stretch printing. Unfortunately, the combination of stretch printing and PAL-NTSC ghosting really hurts some of the First National films, since the distorted movements detract from Chaplin's performance as an actor.
The film that comes off the worst in the MK2/Warner is A Woman of Paris. While the occasional moments of film element damage visible in the older Shepard transfer have been completely removed through digital restoration techniques, the new transfer is somewhat irritating to the eyes due to excessive edge enhancement and contrast boosting (the latter resulting in blown-out highlights), combined with the aforementioned PAL-NTSC ghosting. While the Shepard transfer has weaker contrast and is slightly softer, its look is more film-like and ultimately more satisfying, particularly with its more subtle range of grays. The Shepard version also plays more effectively from a dramatic standpoint due to its slightly slower projection speed. A minor disadvantage to the Shepard version is that phrases from Chaplin's score have been repeated, sometimes awkwardly, to stretch the music out to the longer running time, but that is not enough to deter me from preferring the out-of-print Shepard version on the whole.
The impact of Chaplin on the development of film as an art form can never be overestimated. Besides creating the most recognizable persona in cinema (alongside Mickey Mouse) and setting standards for physical comedy that have never been equaled (excepting, perhaps, Buster Keaton), he infused his films with humaneness and enlivened them with subtle details that make his work appealing even today. Volume 2 of The Chaplin Collection is indispensable for both the casual DVD collector and the serious film scholar, even if the transfers in some cases are not quite what they could have been. Collectors who own the Shepard-produced laserdiscs or DVDs are strongly advised to hold onto them, and serious Chaplin buffs might want to try locating the Shepard/Image Entertainment DVDs of The First National films and A Woman of Paris on the out-of-print market.
For more information about The Chaplin Collection, Volume 2, visit Warner Video. To order The Chaplin Collection, Volume 2, go to TCM Shopping.
by James Steffen
The Chaplin Collection, Volume 2 on DVD
Chaplin Today: Monsieur Verdoux
Producer: Serge Toubiana
Director: Bernard Eisenschitz
Cast: Claude Chabrol
BW & C-27m. Closed Captioning.
Chaplin Today: Monsieur Verdoux
Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference.- Henri Verdoux
Wars, conflict--it's all business. One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify!- Henri Verdoux
I shall see you ALL soon--very soon.- Henri Verdoux
May the Lord have mercy on your soul.- Priest
Why not? After all, it belongs to Him.- Henri Verdoux
Business is a ruthless business, my dear.- Henri Verdoux
The title card on the viewed print reads: Monsieur Verdoux, A Comedy of Murders. Comedy of Murders and The Lady Killer were the film's working title. Monsieur Verdoux was Charles Chaplin's first film since The Great Dictator (1940), and marked the first time that the filmmaker completely abandoned his trademark "Little Tramp" character. In an April 1947 article, International Digest noted that the picture was inspired by Henri-Desiré Landru, a real-life French "Bluebeard," who murdered approximately eighteen people between 1914 and 1919, most of whom were women he wed while he was still married to his first, unsuspecting wife, Catherine Remy. Like Verdoux, Landru, an accountant, targeted widows and other lonely women and disposed of some of their bodies in an incinerator that was part of a villa he rented in Gambais. According to modern program notes from the British Film Society, several years before this film's production, Orson Welles suggested that he direct Chaplin in a drama based on Landru's life, and Chaplin later bought the idea for five thousand dollars and a screen credit reading "Based on an idea by Orson Welles."
The original "Bluebeard" legend, entitled "La Barbe bleue" by Charles Perrault in Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec moralities (Paris, 1697), is about a wealthy man with a hideous blue beard whose seven previous wives have disappeared. When his eighth wife is entrusted with a key that she must promise not to use, she uses the key to open the cellar where she finds the bodies of his past wives. Bluebeard returns home to kill her, but she is soon saved by her brothers, who slay Bluebeard.
Monsieur Verdoux includes real footage of events surrounding the Wall Street crash of 1929, Spanish loyalists being bombed by Franco suporters, and Hitler's and Mussolini's preparations for war. Although an April 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Constance Collier was hired by Chaplin to do research work for the film, her contribution to the completed project has not been determined. A December 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Alice Eyland had been part of the project, but her appearance in the final film is doubtful. Modern sources add Barry Norton, Cyril Delevanti, Charles Wagenheim, Franklin Farnum, Lester Matthews and Wheeler Dryden to the cast.
When this film opened in 1947, it was sharply criticized by reviewers and various groups. In May 1949, Variety announced that Chaplin was pulling the picture from distribution, even though it had only played 2,075 dates during its two-year release. Chaplin gave no reason for the withdrawal, but the Variety item noted that the picture "was badly hurt by opposition of Catholic Church groups which picketed theatres that played it and put pressure on managers not to book it." Memphis censors banned the picture. The film's comic treatment of murder and antiwar sentiments validated already existing anti-Communist sentiments against Chaplin. The combined controversy surrounding this film, his earlier paternity suit, his questioning by HUAC, and his 1952 film Limelight (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1951-60) resulted in a 1952 order by the attorney general to deny Chaplin re-entry into America when he visited London, after which he settled in Switzerland for the remainder of his life.
The film resulted in two lawsuits, one by an Austrian promoter, Robert E. Arden, for breach of contract, and one by a bank clerk who shared the name of the murderous bank clerk in the film, Henri Verdoux. Verdoux attempted to have the film's name changed but was unsuccessful. Chaplin was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for the film. In 1964, after fifteen years of obscurity, the film was re-released to much praise. Allied Artists remade the story in 1960 as Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons. W. Lee Wilder directed and George Sanders starred in the Bristish version.
Released in United States 1982
Released in United States Fall October 1947
Released in United States May 2001
Re-released in United States June 13, 2008
Re-released in United States June 28, 2013
Shown at Cannes International Film Festival (Retrospective) May 9-20, 2001.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1982 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Marathon of Mirth": Comedy Maratho) March 16 - April 1, 1982.)
Released in United States May 2001 (Shown at Cannes International Film Festival (Retrospective) May 9-20, 2001.)
Re-released in United States June 13, 2008 (Film Forum; New York City)
Re-released in United States June 28, 2013
Released in United States Fall October 1947
Restored 35mm print re-released in New York City (Film Forum) June 13, 2008.