Chaplin in Review – PART VIII – Monsieur Verdoux

6 07 2011

Copyright 1947 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★

The Joan Barry suit plagued Chaplin through most of the early 1940s, though also during this time he met the love of his life and companion who would be with him until he passed in 1977, Eugene O’ Neill’s young daughter, Oona.  Professionally, following The Great Dictator, Chaplin began work on several different ideas.  In 1941, he commissioned an idea for $5,000 from Orson Welles about French bluebeard Henri Désiré Landru, who was executed in 1922 for his murders of 10 women, one boy and two dogs.  Another project was an adaptation of the Paul Vincent Carroll stageplay Shadow and Substance.  Joan Barry, ironically enough, was set to play the lead in this film and went through a series of screen tests and other arrangements to prepare her for the part.  However, once they had a falling out and the messiness of the paternity suit came forward, Chaplin shelved Shadow and Substance indefinitely.  A full script was produced and is still in the Chaplin Archives in Switzerland, but Chaplin never got around to completing the picture.  This left him with his Landru script, which took him nearly four years to finish the screenplay.  The film, in the end, was titled Monsieur Verdoux.

Chaplin plays Verdoux, a bluebeard who murders rich widows and invests in their fortunes.  As a front, he has a furniture business that is in most regards inoperative.  Furthermore, at a county cottage, he has a son and his true wife that he loves, who is an invalid.  Both of them only see the kind, loving husband and father and never know of how he makes his living other than the furniture front.  One day he meets a beautiful young woman (Marilyn Nash), who is down on her luck and having to work as a prostitute.  He lures her in at first to test a new poison, but then finds he cannot follow through and tries to persuade her that life is worth living.  Many years later, he runs into the woman after he is down on his luck and lost everything in the stock market crash and she is a wealthy socialite.  Soon after, his past comes back to haunt him and he is arrested for his murderous deeds and sentenced to death.  In the end, Verdoux asks the judge and the audience if he is really the worst of them, a man trying to help his family through the best means he could muster, or are the weapons of mass destruction and other terrors out in the world much worse.

A biting satire with strong social criticism and certainly Chaplin’s darkest comedy, Chaplin himself considered this the cleverest film he had ever written.  Upon release in 1947, it was met with mixed reviews and many interviewers questioned Chaplin’s supposed radical views and political ideals rather than ask questions about the film.  Several critics, however, did give raving reviews of the film and it was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award.  In recent years, the film has become somewhat of a cult classic, even amongst non-Chaplin enthusiasts.

These vicious attacks during the McCarthy era communist witch hunts and constant pursuit by the U.S. government would eventually be what drove Chaplin away from the United States in 1952, after calling it home for nearly 40 years.

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