Monsieur Verdoux Review

A murderous sociopath whose income depends on those he marries and bumps off, Monsieur Verdoux is a delightful bit of tension crafted by a man whose comfort was comedy. Charlie Chaplin blurs crime and murder with light tones of humour throughout this feature, his eponymous performance a step away from his silent-comedy antics. His desire to pursue avenues of dramatics were often steeped in that bumbling persona he had brought to life decades before Monsieur Verdoux or Limelight, but it barely detracts from the strong story and sense of directing style he provides here. Verdoux bumps off wealthy women in the hopes of providing for his own wife and child. Twisted and chilling that may be, it is hard to feel bad for the unemployed former banker. 

With a note of frailty to his character, Verdoux is suffering under the throes of the Great Depression, a devastating economic disaster that would throw America into a decade of economic uncertainty. Layoffs were common, and desperate attempts at a quick bit of cash were frequent, and in the case of Verdoux, desperately interesting. A man is driven by such awful luck that his only way out is to murder those he coaxes into caring for him. There is a slight believability within Monsieur Verdoux, not for his actions, but for his intent. He is trying his best to care for his family. People were pushed to do far worse than he has done, and he is inheriting fortunes through murderous intent. 

Chaplin embodies it with surprising confidence and engages with the inevitable moments of tension rather well. His comedic tones haven’t left him, and he displays them with a strong flair. Verdoux is, initially, exceptionally nice. He smells the roses, moves caterpillars out of harm’s way. It soon becomes apparent that not all is as it seems, but Chaplin does it with such optimism and intrigue to his character. Almost immediately, the spin is made and Verdoux is turned into the sociopath Chaplin had merely alluded to in the opening spot of cheque forgery. To make it all the more believable, a thrilling bit of detective work filters its way into the narrative. Bernard J. Nedell and Charles Evans. Later moments are ably managed by the conniving reasons Verdoux has for removing himself from social events, and the pay-off is expected, but worthy of an audiences’ patience.  

Monsieur Verdoux is a feature that finds itself in the wrong place at the right time. Post-war appreciation for the film was lukewarm, more because people were attempting to utilise art as a coping mechanism for grief than they were looking for something to challenge their perceptions of an open wound. Chaplin’s feature applies darker, interesting tones that challenge the post-war appeal of filmmaking, but in doing so he alienates himself from an audience who were beginning to lose patience with the man who ditched his beloved Tramp caricature. A sad shame, though, as this was his creative high, Monsieur Verdoux offered depth and an extra dimension to his work both as a comic and a creative.  

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