Monsieur Verdoux

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Monsieur Verdoux
Monsieur verdoux57.jpg
Theatrical release poster (1947)
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Produced by Charles Chaplin
Written by Orson Welles (idea)
Charles Chaplin
Starring Charles Chaplin
Martha Raye
William Frawley
Marilyn Nash[1]
Music by Charles Chaplin
Cinematography Roland Totheroh
Curt Courant (uncredited)
Edited by Willard Nico
Distributed by United Artists (1947 release)
Columbia Pictures (1972 re-release)
Janus Films
Release dates
  • April 11, 1947 (1947-04-11)
Running time 124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $323,000 (US)
$1.5 million (international)[2]

Monsieur Verdoux is a 1947 black comedy film directed by and starring Charles Chaplin, who plays a bigamist wife killer inspired by serial killer Henri Désiré Landru. The supporting cast includes Martha Raye, William Frawley, and Marilyn Nash.

Plot[edit]

Though loyal and competent, bank teller Henri Verdoux has been laid off after thirty years' service. To support his wife and child (whom he truly loves) he marries and murders a series of wealthy widows. Eventually exposed and convicted of murder, before being led to the guillotine he dismisses his killing of a few, for which he has been condemned, as no worse than the killing of many in war, for which others are honored.

Production[edit]

The initial idea for the film came when Orson Welles, developing a film of his own, was inspired to cast Chaplin as a character based on Landru; but Chaplin backed out at the last minute, not wanting to act for another director. According to Welles, Chaplin bought the script from Welles and rewrote several major sections, including the ending and what Welles said was "the funniest sequence in Verdoux"; the only specific scene to which Welles lays credit is the opening. He also acknowledges that Chaplin claims to have no memory of receiving a script from Welles, and that he believes Chaplin is telling the truth when he says this. Welles believed that a version directed by him would have been better, as he considered Chaplin a "genius" as an actor, but merely competent as a director; however, Welles urgently needed money, and so signed away all rights to the script.[3]

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." After seeing the film, Welles insisted on receiving a screen credit for the story idea.

The lead character kills to make money, hence he is not (in his eyes) a murderer. 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 made an 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 not go before the cameras.

Reception[edit]

This was the first feature film in which Chaplin's character bore no resemblance to his famous "Tramp" character (The Great Dictator did not feature the Tramp, but his "Jewish barber" bore sufficient similarity), and consequently was poorly received in America when it first premiered. However, it was more successful in Europe. The film and its dark themes were ill-suited to the American political and cultural climate of the time (less than two years after World War II ended). Chaplin's popularity and public image had been irrevocably damaged by multiple scandals and political controversies prior to its release.[4]

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. At one press conference to promote the film, Chaplin made his speech, then invited questions from the press with the words "Proceed with the butchering".[5] Since then, it has gained enough of a following to be considered a cult film.[citation needed]

Despite its poor critical and commercial performance, the film was nominated for the 1947 Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Actress Marilyn Nash dies, Starred with Chaplin in 'Monsieur Verdoux'". Variety Magazine. 2011-10-14. Retrieved 2011-10-16. 
  2. ^ Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 54
  3. ^ Bogdanovich, Peter and Welles, Orson This is Orson Welles, HarperPerennial 1992, ISBN 0-06-092439-X
  4. ^ Peary, Danny (1988). Cult Movies 3. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. pp. 136–140. ISBN 0-671-64810-1. 
  5. ^ Flores Alvarez, Olivia (9 October 2008). "Monsieur Verdoux: Charlie Chaplin's post-WWII film is a comedy of murders". Houston Press. Retrieved 8 December 2012. 

External links[edit]