Thursday, 2 September 2010

Charlie: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Monsieur Verdoux, Charles Chaplin's wicked dark comedy was greeted with indifference when first released in the US in 1947. Rocked by scandals in the press, Chaplin's popularity was by then in steady decline, and audiences were decidedly lukewarm for the director's latest creation. Looking at the film today, one can still understand the hostility towards the film - it was perhaps too strange, too weird a departure from Chaplin's most famous persona of the Little Tramp, but Monsieur Verdoux remains one of the director's greatest achievements.

Set during the Depression, Chaplin plays the titular character of Monsieur Verdoux, a lowly French bank cashier turned Bluebeard, who after disposing of his wealthy new brides funnels his cash into the stock market to secure the future of his real wife and young son. However, with a bunch of vengeful in-laws hot on his heels, plus the added stress of a wife that simply won't die, Verdoux's luck may be running out...

Originally the film was conceived by Orson Welles, as a portrait of French murder Henri Désiré Landru who was guillotined in 1922 after murdering and incinerating at least ten women he met through Lonely Hearts ads in Parisian newspapers. At some point the film changed hands and gone was Orson Welles (although he retains a story credit), and in was Chaplin, who directed, acted and scored the picture.

Monsieur Verdoux is a marvellous film, handsomely directed by Chaplin, and acted to perfection. Chaplin plays Verdoux as a bit of a dandy, charming and intelligent, lover of the finer things in life, and ruthless in his dedication to his killer enterprise. Its often a very funny picture - Chaplin does numerous bit of business throughout the film, like his rapid-fire counting of his profits, and his acrobatic swagger when swooning over his potential victims. And there's some great laughs from one of his wives, a seemingly indestructible flapper girl tuned high society with a mouth like dustbin lid. There's some thrilling stuff here too, in one scene Verdoux has to out manoeuvre a cop whose has figured out his scheme, and there's a wonderful poignant scene where Verdoux picks up a young woman who he intends to test a deadly poison on, only to have a change of heart when he hears her hard luck story.

The Wages of Sin - Monsieur Verdoux adds up his latest profits

Monsieur Verdoux seems to be out of print on DVD in the US (perhaps a Blu-Ray is inevitable), but is still available as a Region 2 disc (stand-alone, or part of the magnificent 11-disc Complete Charlie Chaplin box). Warners' transfer is excellent, with a fine clear, clean image, and strong audio well representing Chaplin's music. Extras include an introduction from Chaplin biographer David Robinson, and a documentary on the film Chaplin Today: Monsieur Verdoux, featuring Claude Chabrol.

1 comment:

  1. I am a Chaplin fan but am still missing many of his classics - including this one - one of these days, though...

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