Director: Charlie Chaplin
Writer: Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles (idea)
Cinematographer: Roland Totheroh and Curt Courant (uncredited)
by Tory Maddox
Many would want to point to Modern Times, Gold Rush, or The Great Dictator as Chaplin's greatest films. I appreciate and love all those movies, but Monsieur Verdoux is the culmination of a lifetime of cinematic authorship, in which he took all he learned from his silent evolution and applied it to a talking pictures.
This is his finest film. Its storytelling, performances, balance between comedy and drama, commentary, everything that comprises a great film, are all operating at the top of Chaplin’s game.
Monsieur Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin) is a womanizer and swindler who marries and then kills his conquests in order to inherit their wealth. Somehow Chaplin makes top rated black comedy out of this terrifying premise and cynical premise. Given the era’s Code and the film's bleak conclusion, this movie could only have existed with Chaplin’s name behind it. In our modern PC era most would ignore the film’s message. The question is very simple - who has the authority to pass judgment on one man committing grotesque murders when the leaders of the finest nations in the world are doing the exact same on a massive scale? I know the expected answers - do as I say not as I do, there are laws against murder, and the myriad of other slippery slope examples. Chaplin is not condoning such behavior. As usual, he is satirizing it. This film pushes us to think. The ending is one of the finest. And when examined next to all the other films of the era it’s all the more impressive. It’s no wonder the film wasn’t successful. Like any great literature or other great films, people could only appreciate the material long after its arrival, often demonstrating a fear or apprehension toward the text, or worse, a conservative mindset that just couldn’t understand it. To think that Orson Welles came up with the idea - nearly eight years after Citizen Kane - speaks volumes toward how progressive this film was from the onset.
For a man whose entire career was based on the silent film, for him to now speak and play the leading role in a story that is so dependent on dialogue and sound makes it all the better. The characters are so rich that I never was bored. I wanted to see how far Verdoux could go. He was the Tony Soprano or Walter White of yesteryear. To balance comedy, drama, and profundity is a skill reserved for the greatest and most creative geniuses. Chaplin accomplished this. Monsieur Verdoux is his finest film.
BELOW: One of the film's best comedic sequences, combining Chaplin's classic physical comedy with hilarious dialogue
Thoughts on films, old and new
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