Monsieur Verdoux  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Monsieur Verdoux is a 1947 black comedy film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Plot

The film is about an unemployed banker, Henri Verdoux, and his sociopathic methods of attaining income. While being both loyal and competent in his work, Verdoux has been laid-off. To make money for his wife and child, he marries wealthy widows and then kills them. His crime spree eventually works against him when two particular widows break his normal routine. The film ends as Verdoux is being led to the guillotine in the prison courtyard after defending his actions as no worse than those carried out every day by businessmen and soldiers.

Production

The script for this film, originally written by Orson Welles, was inspired by the case of serial killer Henri Désiré Landru. Welles sought to direct the film with Chaplin as star, but Chaplin backed out at the last minute, citing that he'd never been directed before and wasn't willing to start. Instead, Chaplin bought the script from Welles and rewrote parts of it, crediting Welles only with the idea. The film's premise is that "murder is the logical extension of capitalism". The lead character kills to make money, he is hence not (in his eyes) a murderer.

Another story suggests that although the script had yet to be written, Welles wanted Chaplin to play the lead role. Chaplin, deciding that he didn't want to have to write the script with Welles, opted out, saying in effect "If it isn't written yet, I'm not interested." Moreover, Welles insisted on receiving a screen credit for the story idea for Verdoux if he so chose, after seeing the film. (Needless to say, Welles chose a credit.)

Since the film is a talking picture, there is some comedy in the dialogue as well as some physical comedy. Chaplin tended to work with a repertory company of actors who performed exclusively in Chaplin's films. Monsieur Verdoux, atypically for a Chaplin film, features some familiar Hollywood actors, including Martha Raye, William Frawley and Fritz Leiber, Sr.. Rumors have persisted that Chaplin's 1915-1923 leading lady Edna Purviance has a cameo appearance in the film. Chaplin biographer David Robinson wrote that Purviance did return briefly to the Chaplin Studios and prepared for a small role in the film, but that she did in fact not go before the cameras.

Reception

The film does not feature Chaplin's famous "Tramp" character, and consequently was poorly received in America when it first premiered. It was however more successful in Europe. The film and its dark themes were ill-suited to the American political and cultural climate of the time (it had been less than two years since World War II ended), and Chaplin's popularity and public image had been irrevocably damaged by multiple scandals and political controversies prior to its release.

Chaplin was subjected to unusually hostile treatment by the press while promoting the opening of the film, and some boycotts took place during its short run. It has since gained enough of a following to be considered a cult film -- Chaplin fans are divided over its quality. Its dark humor, so strikingly different from Chaplin's usual sentimentality, is perhaps better appreciated today.

Despite its poor critical and commercial performance, the film was nominated for the 1948 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

In 1964, Chaplin allowed Verdoux to be re-released along with several Chaplin films to play at the New York Plaza as part of a Chaplin Festival. Verdoux was not only the biggest hit of the entire festival but it broke box-office records for the Plaza. It has been assumed that the reason for the successful re-release was the film being put out during a time of more overt criticism of the government.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Monsieur Verdoux" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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