Monsieur Verdoux, starring Charlie Chaplin, Martha Raye
Monsieur Verdoux is one of Charlie Chaplin’s most unusual films. One of his talking films, Charlie Chaplin is not playing the role of the little Tramp in any way. Instead, he plays the dapper Monsieur Henri Verdoux, a French bank teller who, after being “downsized” in the 1930’s, decides to support his invalid wife and son in a most unusual way. In real life, Charlie Chaplin had the reputation for being a lady-killer; in Monsieur Verdoux, he plays a literal lady-killer — a man who, under a variety of aliases, romances, marries and murders rich women.
The film opens with Monsieur Verdoux picking roses from his garden, and being too tenderhearted to step on a caterpillar — while in the background, an incinerator is burning, with the clear implication that his latest victim’s corpse is being disposed of in it.
This sets up the recurring dichotomy of the main character — he is legitimately both a kindhearted individual, who is capable of cold-blooded murder without remorse. And this is supposed to be a comedy? Actually, yes — and parts of it are quite funny.
Much of the humor and any audience sympathy comes from the character of the women that Monsieur Verdoux murders. Most of them are harsh, mean-spirited, etc. and “deserving” of their fate. One of the extended scenes is with his “wife” Annabella, played by Martha Raye. It quickly becomes a running joke that all of Monsieur Verdoux’s attempts at murdering Annabella are foiled by one thing after another — with the audience rooting for Henri to get rid of the annoying Annabella.
One woman that Monsieur Verdoux doesn’t murder is a woman that he passes on the street one evening, who’s just recently released from prison. Verdoux invites her to his apartment, intending to test a new, untraceable poison on her. However, once the woman tells her story, and how she went to prison as a result of trying to provide for her invalid husband — and this touches Monsieur Verdoux, reminding him of his own invalid wife, and in a touching moment, he spares her from drinking the poisoned wine.
Later on in the film, this moment of kindness comes back to haunt him, inadvertently leading to Monsieur Verdoux’s capture and trial. This is after the Great Depression, during which Verdoux has lost all of his wealth and has led to the death of his wife and child. Monsieur Verdoux has lost his will to fight, and in a comic turn at a night club, he turns himself in to the police.
Monsieur Verdoux is a funny film, but also a thought-provoking one. You do not walk away agreeing with Henri Verdoux, but you do think about some of the issues that he addresses. I rate it 3 clowns out of 5.
Product description of Monsieur Verdoux
Charles Chaplin turns his traditionally sunny sensibilities inside out with this sublime black comedy about a family man who secretly uses murder to support his beloved invalid wife and child. Thereâs little of the immortal Tramp in Verdoux, yet the fastidious dandy is not lacking in comic graces. Most hilarious of all are the always-foiled attempts to dispatch the raucous Annabella (Martha Raye). When this most atypical Chaplin film opened, the world was not ready to look death in the face and walk away smiling. Today, Monsieur Verdoux ranks among Chaplinâs best works. It is killer comedy.
Funny movie quotes from Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux
Henri Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin): Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference.
Henri Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin): Wars, conflict — it’s all business. One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify!
The Prosecutor: Never, never in the history of jurisprudence have such terrifying deeds been brought to light. Gentlemen of the jury, you have before you a cruel and cynical monster. Look at him!
[all heads turn to face Verdoux, who turns around himself to look behind.]
The Prosecutor: Observe him, gentlemen. This man, who has brains, if he had decent instincts, could have made an honest living. And yet, he preferred to rob and murder unsuspecting women. In fact, he made a business of it. I do not ask for vengeance, but for the protection of society. For this mass killer, I demand the extreme penalty: that he be put to death on the guillotine. The State rests its case.
Judge: Monsieur Verdoux, you have been found guilty. Have you anything to say before sentence is passed upon you?
Henri Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin): Oui, monsieur, I have. However remiss the prosecutor has been in complimenting me, he at least admits that I have brains. Thank you, Monsieur, I have. And for thirty-five years I used them honestly. After that, nobody wanted them. So I was forced to go into business for myself. As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison. However, I do not wish to lose my temper, because very shortly, I shall lose my head. Nevertheless, upon leaving this spark of earthly existence, I have this to say: I shall see you all … very soon … very soon.
Priest: May the Lord have mercy on your soul.
Henri Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin): Why not? After all, it belongs to Him.
Henri Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin): Business is a ruthless business, my dear.
Trivia about Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux:
- Verdoux’s quote “One murder makes a villain; millions a hero” is taken from the abolitionist Bishop Beilby Porteus (1731-1808).
- Before production started, approval was refused by the MPPDA (now the MPAA) under the Production Code (Hays Code), labeling the scenario, still called “A Comedy Of Murders”, in their words “unacceptable”. They continued, “In his indictment of the “system” and the “social structure”, the filmmaker offered a “rationale” of Verdoux’s crimes, in terms of their moral work.” Worst of all the board also considered Verdoux’s attitude toward God “blasphemous”. In a letter of response, scene by scene, Charles Chaplin upheld his screenplay against the charge of subversion, but only giving in on details. For example, when one of Verdoux’s wives invites him to “come to bed” the line had to be replaced with “get to bed”. Chaplin had no trouble getting around such proscriptions, as he did with Verdoux’s morning-after “humming” with briskly engaging music. The production board complied and gave this film a seal of approval.
- The tune that Verdoux plays on the piano as Lydia sits by after she withdrew the 70,000 francs is the opening and closing theme to Chaplin’s film A Woman of Paris (1923), which he used in 1976 when he re-scored the picture.
- The producers of the film were sued in 1948 by Parisian bank employee Henri Verdoux.
- The film was originally meant to be directed by Orson Welles and starring Charles Chaplin, but Chaplin backed out at the last moment, saying that he had never had anyone direct him before and didn’t want to start. Instead, he bought the screenplay off Welles and re-wrote parts of it, crediting Welles with only the “idea”. Welles said that, despite most of the script being his, he didn’t mind as it was one of his lesser works.
- Based on real-life French murderer Desire Landru, who was guillotined in 1922.
- Charles Chaplin hired famed press agent Russell Birdwell to publicize Monsieur Verdoux. Just prior to the premiere, Birdwell wrote columnist Hedda Hopper a note saying: “I contend that Charlie Chaplinâs “Monsieur Verdoux” is the greatest and most controversial picture that has ever come from the Hollywood mills. If I lose I will publicly eat the negative of the film in front of the Chaplin studios. Sincerely, Bird.” After she’d seen the film, Hopper wired back: “DEAR BIRD: START EATING. HOPPER.”
- The film was a colossal box-office flop on its 1947 release, despite being ardently championed by writer-critic James Agee, who considered Charles Chaplin’s acting performance the greatest male performance he had ever seen in films.
- Filmed in 1947, but not approved for release in the US until 1964. This was due mainly to the US government’s distaste for Charlie Chaplin’s politics.
- Chaplin bought the idea for the film off Orson Welles for $5,000. Welles had been contemplating making a dramatized documentary of the real story of French serial killer, Henri Landru.
- Chaplin regarded the film as “the cleverest and most brilliant film of my career”.
DVD Features of Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux
- Available subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese (Unspecified)
- Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
- Introduction by David Robinson
- “Chaplin Today: Monsieur Verdoux,” Documentary by Bernard Eisenschitz Plan drawings and preparatory sketches Photo gallery, film posters, and trailers
Editorial review of Monsier Verdoux (1947) starring Charlie Chaplin, Martha Raye, courtesy of Amazon.com
This blistering little black comedy was well ahead of its time when released in 1947. Originally, Orson Welles had wanted Chaplin to star in his drama about a French mass murderer named Landru, but Chaplin was hesitant to act for another director, and used the idea himself. He plays a dapper gent named Henri Verdoux (who assumes a number of identities), a civilized monster who marries wealthy women, then murders them (as we meet him, he’s gathering roses as an incinerator ominously bellows smoke in the background) and collects their money to support his real family.
The Little Tramp is now a distant memory, though this was the first film not to feature Chaplin’s beloved creation. Verdoux is largely viciously clever until it gets too heavy-handed, as evidenced when a woman he spares returns years later as the mistress of a munitions manufacturer. Ultimately, Chaplin breaks character (much as he did in The Great Dictator) to preach to the masses, declaring that against the machines of war that grip the planet, humble killer Verdoux is “an amateur by comparison.” —David Kronke