Saturday, 13 April 2013

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

A Quick Glimpse Into Charlie Chaplin's Dark Side

Monsieur Verdoux explores a side of Charlie Chaplin, we never thought we'd see. Monsieur Verdoux is a man who travels around the world, marrying as many women as possible and then murdering them to steal their money. However, Verdoux disguises himself as a gentlemen, in order to continue these habits. I should mention that he also has a wife and child back home who he actually loves, and has no intentions of killing.

Verdoux is a mesmerizing character. In one scene he seems like a heartless sociopath-serial killer, the next he is giving money to a strange woman in need. It almost seems as though he is very much out of place, which was Chaplin's intention. Although we would never believe such a character would exist, Chaplin proceeds to explore him. There is a great scene at the end SPOILER ALERT, where Verdoux has been captured by the police. He then proceeds to say something about how Americans are being paid to create killing machines that will go on to kill millions of women and children. When it comes back to Verdoux, he's just an amateur. It was that scene that struck me. Verdoux is not a character who it makes sense to sympathize with, and it truly makes no sense to sympathize with him. What is Chaplin trying to say with the character of Verdoux? Is it a statement on the irony of material life? The speech I referenced earlier in this paragraph is a clear anti-violence sort of message, but that is in no way persistent throughout the rest of the film. It has been said that Chaplin had a negative opinion of women, and that Verdoux was his way of demonstrating this into a film, yet, the fact that such a genius would make a  film for the sole sake of demonstrating abuse against women. Why does Verdoux kill only women? Surely he could make the same amount of money from killing a separate group of people. The questions pile up, and I wish I could think of answers, but I truly cannot. Did Chaplin even know what he wanted from this film? Probably not.

This is very far from being Chaplin's "funniest" film. In fact, I wouldn't consider it to be funny, at all. There are a few parts that are intended to make you laugh, and do indeed succeed in bringing you to a sensation of a comedic feel. Yet, this film is more of a dark-crime film than any sort of comedy. We laugh at the scenes where Chaplin demonstrates his knack for buffoonery (in fact, there's a great scene when Verdoux is at his wedding, when he notices one of his other wives in the audience. Needles to say, he has no choice but to hide). But unlike some of Chaplin's other masterpiece, it is not the comedy we re-act to... it's the overall darkness of the film.

In 1940, Chaplin made his first talkie, The Great Dictator. For the next seven years, he was rather lost until Orson Welles gave him the idea for Verdoux. For me, a minor problem with The Great Dictator, was the fact that Chaplin was having difficulty adapting to the usage of sound. Many of the dialogue scenes in The Great Dictator are people simply standing before an audience and talking. Chaplin was unable to shy away from the great scenes of him running around as he is chased by men who are far more muscular than himself. However, Monsieur Verdoux is so brilliant in it's usage of sound, that you would have never known. Chaplin uses voices to make us love Verdoux, and yes, and think we do love Verdoux. The voices of Verdoux is the voice of Chaplin, soft and strangely kind. However, the voices of his wives are generally high-pitched and aggravating. This helps us complete Chaplin's goal of making us sympathize with a woman killer.

Monsieur Verdoux seems to have the most luck I have ever seen. At one point, a police officer catches him and plans to take him back to the police station. They do this by taking a train - where the police officer manages to fall asleep. This is a great deal of luck for Verdoux, since he is able to escape because of that. He is also very fortunate do to the fact that all his small trick to get his wives to take their money from the bank are always successful. We get tired of seeing everything go right for Verdoux, and we begin to lose interest.

Monsieur Verdoux is a good film in the way that it makes us sympathize with the unlikely character. However, it certainly has a great deal of flaws. 

Monsieur Verdoux,
Directed by Charlie Chaplin,
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Mady Correl and William Frawley
7/10 (B)

1. The Great Dictator
2. The Gold Rush
3. Modern Times
4. Monsieur Verdoux
5. The Kid

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