On one level, "Monsieur Verdoux" is the story of a fired French bank clerk who goes into business for himself marrying and murdering women for their money. On another level, the film is an indictment of war, in which, acco... more »rding to Verdoux, mass murder is legalized, celebrated and paraded. "Killing is the enterprise by which your system prospers," Verdoux says. "As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison." This evaluation was particularly apt in the case of the wife, played by the irrepressible Martha Raye. As Annabella, Raye is one spouse who simply refuses to be murdered, comically evading the deadly traps that Verdoux sets for her. A complete change of pace for Chaplin, "Monsieur Verdoux" was a critical and box office failure upon its release in 1947 as the public was not ready for a cynical antihero from the man who brought the world The Little Tramp. However, its re-release in 1964 set box office records as a new audience attuned to the pleasures of black comedy by "Dr. Strangelove" gave the film the reception it richly deserved.« less
"If the willingness to take risks is the mark of a great artist -- and I believe it is -- then Monsieur Verdoux is one of Charles Chaplin's greatest films. And amidst all the controversy stirred by his portrayal of a serial wife killer, it's easy to forget that it's also a hilarious black comedy with plenty of sharp lines that would have succeeded even without its sociological message.
Chaplin's ability as an actor is pushed to a new level on this film through his portrayal of a morally ambiguous, unscrupulous ex-bank clerk who has no qualms about putting a body into an incinerator in his backyard. While much has been said about this film's break with Chaplin's Little Tramp character, careful examination reveals that Henri Verdoux is just a logical, and daring, advancement in the character: The more devilish, sometimes sadistic sides of the Little Tramp taken to their inevitable conclusion, where comic mischief crosses over the line to villainy. And it's highly compelling, the perfect foil to Chaplin's most heartwarming films (eg. City Lights and Modern Times), allowing Chaplin to express an insidiousness hitherto unexplored. Martha Raye nearly steals the show as the airheaded, supernaturally unkillable Mme. Bonheur (the name itself means "happiness"), and Marilyn Nash is winning as the Belgian derelict who inspires a spark of compassion in Verdoux. The conclusion of this character relationship is one of Chaplin's most complex writing feats: Imagine the ending of City Lights twisted into a dark, steely, uncompromising version of itself.
There are certain moments when the film does threaten to fall into self-involvement -- in his later years, Chaplin did let his ego take ahold of his work -- but in the case of Monsieur Verdoux, he uses this larger-than-life persona so well, and it fits the character so snugly, that the ego becomes an advantage and adds to the depth of the character. And the script has none of the self-conscious mix of silent film and talkies that plagued The Great Dictator; Chaplin had grown quite well into dialogue writing, allowing him to formulate moments of murderous irony that are cuttingly funny. ("Don't pull the cat's tail...") I have no problems with the ending speeches in this film as I did with the final speech of The Great Dictator: In the context of this story, they fit in quite well. Verdoux at the end is a man who has given up all hope, and he seems to mock his own fate and character while unmercifully unveiling his anger at the world. The speeches are not meant to be taken for face value, and I find them thought-provoking and fascinating rather than moralistic or self-important.
I first saw this film at Symphony Space in New York City and the audience was laughing so hard it was in tears. With modern audiences generally less inclined to judge a film by its "moral standing" (Kill Bill, anyone?), Monsieur Verdoux can be seen for what it is: A hilarious, complex sociological examination which identifies social ills while at the same time taking part in it. In that, it is unique in the Chaplin canon and deserves to rank among his most important films.
A quick note about this DVD edition: For some reason, the bonus materials for this film are far less numerous than on the other DVDs in this series -- hence the single-disc package and lower price. By the standards of this series of reissues, the DVD materials are really quite scant -- a useful yet brief half-hour documentary featuring good insight from director Claude Chabrol, a trailer, some storyboards. The picture and sound are of good quality, however, and the film is one to own. Highly recommended."
Chaplin's Best Talkie
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 03/04/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In his autobiography, Charlie Chaplin called "Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) "the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made." Though not without its faults, this sardonic black comedy remains his best foray into sound. Chaplin's detailed performance as the business-minded Bluebeard is a masterpiece of screen acting. However, the supporting cast ranges from excellent (Martha Raye) to amateurish (Marilyn Nash) while the final minutes get bogged down in endless talk. Chaplin later admitted that "Monsieur Verdoux" could have used a bit more pantomime and less dialogue. Still, it's a thought-provoking and hard-hitting film. Henri Verdoux and the Little Tramp have much in common."
D. Mok | 06/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Monsieur Verdoux is Chaplin's unsung masterpiece. A very dry film, it lives in the shadow of the much broader 'The Great Dictator'. The humor is subtle (the Martha Raye scenes aside) and one has to think to get it. Example: Verdoux is tending to his rose bushes while the incinerator is finishing up one of his wives in the background. He's just murdered a woman yet he refuses to step on a little catepillar. In picking it up and moving it to safety, he becomes very squemish at touching the little creature! This character is as far away from the Little Tramp as one can get. They are the same though; both long for love however, Verdoux uses love to his 'business' advantage whereas 'Charlie' was ususally scorned by it. This is his best written talky (any viewer of the over preachy 'Limelight' would concur) while it looks technically cheap at times (a not too uncommon area of some of his later productions). Such criticism is small though and the 'speech' at the end fits well into the narrative, not to mention that with the passing of over five decades....it still makes sense. Chaplin should be commended for putting out such a daring film at a time where America didn't want to hear such things. Not for everyones tastes but still a film that should not be ignored."
Chaplin changes - can you?
Sophia Burns | 08/19/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"That was the campain in the 40's, when the public didn't want to accept this film. After a few weeks of running, it was abandoned in all cinema's. The people expected a Little Tramp, instead, they got a Bigamist Lady Killer. En mass they decided to boo the film and stay away.
However, this is not what Monsieur Verdoux deserves. In every scene you see Chaplin's quick brain, keen eye and swift feet at work. Some of the love scenes are absolutely hilarious, even in this day. Martha Raye (the wife who refuses to me murdered) is a scream. The film is intended as a parody on Society prior to WWII; if you watch it with this in mind you'll be able to enjoy it tremendously. Before Chaplin decided to make this film, he had just gone through one of the most turbulant periods in his life. His divorse with Paulette, being harrased by a neurotic former love, meeting Oona and soon to be banned from the States, accused of being a Communist had taken it toll. Chaplin fought back in the only way he knew how: by making a comedy to tackle the present cruel (at least to him) society. This DVD quality is as good as you can get; there a no evidence of film aging. However, the text on the back of the cover is a great disappointment. I happened to read it before I watched the film (as most people do to see if the film is what they were looking for), and not only was this the dullest description of a film I ever saw, but worse, it actually managed to give away the entire film including the FINAL scene! If you decide to give this film a chance (which won't be a disappointment, garantueed), avoid reading the back of the cover at all costs. This is a five-star film, but one star off for the cover. Shame on Image Entertainment!"
Monsieur Verdoux-Thought provoking
Sophia Burns | 09/01/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Monsier Verdoux is an offbeat black comedy which keeps the most refined sentiments and the darkest brutality in constant contrast. Chaplin depicts a dapper and clever fellow who has lost his job in the depression. He resorts to murdering women he has charmed and taking their fortunes to support his family. Always the gentleman with exquisite manners and apt philosophical quips, he nevertheless dispatches his victims with equal aplomb. His philosophical remarks appear at odd moments. While he is pumping a chemist friend about the formula for a poison, he remarks that "chemistry is the outward manisfestation of the metaphysical". He then proceedes to bring a girl off the street into his quarters as his intended victim. After setting a poisoned glass of wine on the table for her, she declares that life is beautiful despite all the wrong in the world, this promted by her belief that Verdoux is sincerely helping her. Verdoux is moved by the girl and leans over saying " I believe there is some cork in your wineglass, let me get another for you", therby saving her. The movie has a charm, wit and intelligence to it. Critics who do not see this are too literal minded and seemingly cannot reconcile the contrast between the refinement and brutality of Verdoux. Of course they cannot be reconciled! They seem to expect a moral balance sheet to be closed out like an accountant. Verdoux is a thought provoking contradiction-perhaps a microcosm of civilization itself-full of art and noble impulses, but also of violence and injustice too."