CHAPLIN COLLECTION - MONSIEUR VERDOUX: DVD
A family man, Henri Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin) marries and murders rich women to support his beloved invalid wife (Maddy Correll) and child (Allison Roddan).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is an amusing bit of physical comedy business about 95 minutes into the film that reminds of the Chaplin legacy, a welcome moment of pure comedy. Monsieur Verdoux breaks with Chaplin tradition, though, with a character far removed from The Tramp and placing him in France as a faux sophisticate whose secret life is like serial killer/gigolo, chasing wealthy women to cash in on them, as a way of supporting his family after losing his job at a bank.
It’s an idea from Orson Welles, and it’s temping to imagine the difference in treatment, had Welles made a story of the concept. While Chaplin deviates from his life-long format – and this was made in the later stages of his career – he retains a few elements from the golden years, which fans will pick up.
What stands out, though, is Chaplin’s craftsmanship as director - and composer. He slowly unravels this story with great care. Lines like “Despair is a narcotic…” turn the comedy into something much darker than he’s used to delivering. His audiences weren’t ready for it and the film was a comercial failure. But for film historians and Chaplin fans, it’s a fascinating work.
And in a startlingly prophetic moment during his trial, when he stands accused of mass killings, Monsieur Verdoux delivers a speech before the judge passes sentence that condemns the world for encouraging it “by building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing”. Seen in the fiery world of 2003 and 2004, when weapons of mass destruction have become recognisable by mere initials, WMD, this is a chilling piece of writing.
He gets highly philosophical about his behaviour in killing and business, which no doubt prevented the film being regarded as a feel good comedy. Especially as the final shot is him walking through the prison grounds towards the guillotine.
In the extra materials, David Robinson (introduction, 5 minutes) points out how highly Chaplin himself regarded this work: his celeverst, he thought. Taking murder and making it comic. Robisnon’s background briefing is, as usual, well informed and fascinating.
In the longer piece, Chaplin Today, filmmaker Claude Chabrol talks about the film’s impact on him: he was at the premiere. To him, it was a demonstration of Chaplin moving away completely from the silent film to talkies. Not just in some scenes, but I its whole conception.
This 25 minute feature also puts the film into context as both a part of the Chaplin films, and of its time. It came after The Great Dictator’s success, and how it may have been a comedy of murders possibly directed by Welles himself. But that was July 1941, and Chaplin took four more years to finish the screenplay.
It’s a fascinating insight to Chaplin’s filmmaking and to this film in particular.
Published March 18, 2004
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THE GOLD RUSH
THE GREAT DICTATOR
CHAPLIN COLLECTION - MONSIEUR VERDOUX: DVD (G)
CAST: Charlie Chaplin, Martha Raye, Maddy Correll, Allison Roddan,
DIRECTOR: Charlie Chaplin
SCRIPT: Charlie Chaplin (idea Orson Welles)
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
PRESENTATION: Disc 1: B/W; 1.33:1 (4:3 full frame transfer); DD 5.1 (remastered)
SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 2: Introduction by David Robinson; Chaplin Today: Monsieur Verdoux –documentary; plan drawing and sketches; photos; trailers, posters
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Bros HV
DVD RELEASE: March 17, 2004