Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Charles Chaplin,
Martha Raye, Marilyn Nash
Director: Charles Chaplin
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 124 Minutes
Release Date: March 26, 2013
“Business is a ruthless business, my dear.”
Charles Chaplin may forever be known for The Tramp, but let's not forget...the arrival of the sound era in movies didn't derail the great filmmaker's career. In fact, after retiring his most famous character once and for all, Chaplin went on to make three more features without him.
His first foray without The Tramp was the surprising dark comedy Monsieur Verdoux. If you're looking for the charm and chuckles of old, you'll definitely be in for a surprise when you see the great Chaplin in new form as a mass murderer.
He plays the title character (and, of course, wrote, produced and directed as well). Verdoux is a man of many names and forms, and his specialty is marrying rich women and disposing of them, and exiting with their fortunes.
Interestingly enough, Verdoux is married for real...in fact, we come to learn part of the reason for his deadly escapades is his attempts to keep his invalid wife and small child in comfort. Verdoux was not always a Bluebeard...he spent 30 years of his life making an honest living in a bank, but the Great Depression left him without a job and without a franc to his name.
The waters are a little darker than normal, and in many ways, Chaplin's dark comedy was ahead of its time. I think modern audiences might be a little more accepting of the premise of a comical movie about murder than the ones in 1947. But a comedy this remains, with some delightfully funny moments throughout, many of them involving Verdoux's failed attempts to dispatch of a particularly rich and particularly loud and brash wife (the hysterical Raye), who prides herself on being a lucky person. And when she turns up unannounced at one of Verdoux's other weddings? Priceless.
This film also marked a darker period in the life of Chaplin himself. He had lost a paternity suit (which, surprisingly, he was innocent of), and had found enemies in high places by being blatant in his Socialist sympathies. Fans were starting to sour...in fact, Monsieur Verdoux was boycotted everywhere when it was first released, making it Chaplin's first movie to lose money. Not long after, he would find himself exiled from America (in all his years here, he never applied to be a citizen).
Still, he managed to make a daring and entertaining film that allowed him to express some of his personal darkness. The only misstep is at the end, when a captured Verdoux becomes a philosophical mouthpiece for Chaplin's pretentious and self-righteous breast beating. Verdoux wants to be critical of the rest of us? I think he long since gave up the right to point out society's ills when he murdered 14 innocent people. That's just me.
Nevertheless, the overall pleasure of seeing Chaplin at work and exploring new themes, new characters, and new ideas after his unparalleled successful run with The Tramp is worth a few eye rolls at the ending. For the most part, this film is wickedly fun.
Charlie Chaplin's feature films have held up well, and in the loving hands of Criterion, Monsieur Verdoux looks quite beautiful for a 65 year-old film. The print is quite pristine; only a minor noticeable scratch here or there. The black and white photography comes through with terrific clarity and contrast.
The uncompressed audio sounds fine...quite clean for its age, and of course, the wonderful score is a plus (composed by Chaplin himself).
There is a 2003 documentary on the film (originally included in the Warner box set release), plus a new documentary on Chaplin and the American Press. There is an audio interview with actress Marilyn Nash, plus vintage radio and theatrical trailers. A booklet rounds it out, which features even reprints of pieces authored by Chaplin himself!
With Monsieur Verdoux, Charles Chaplin proved there was life after The Tramp, and there was still new ground for a seasoned artist to cultivate. Very enjoyable.