Theatrical release poster (1947)
|Directed by||Charles Chaplin|
|Produced by||Charles Chaplin|
|Screenplay by||Charles Chaplin|
|Story by||Orson Welles|
|Music by||Charles Chaplin|
Curt Courant (uncredited)
|Edited by||Willard Nico|
|Distributed by||United Artists (1947 release)
Columbia Pictures (1972 re-release)
|Box office||$323,000 (US)
$1.5 million (international)
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.
Henri Verdoux had been a bank teller for thirty years before being laid off. To support his wife and child, he turns to the business of marrying and murdering wealthy widows. The Couvais family becomes suspicious when Thelma Couvais draws all her money and disappears, only two weeks after marrying a man named "Varnay", whom they only know through a photograph. As Verdoux (Chaplin) prepares to sell the residence of the murdered Thelma, widowed Marie Grosnay visits the residence. Verdoux sees her as another "business" opportunity and attempts to charm her, but she refuses. In the following weeks, Verdoux has a flower girl repeatedly send Grosnay flowers. In need of money to invest, Verdoux, as M. Floray, visits widow Lydia Floray (Hoffman), who complains that his engineering job has kept him away too long. That night, Verdoux murders her for her money.
Verdoux develops a poison untraceable by autopsy to use as a better means to kill. He meets The Girl (Nash) on a rainy night on the street, takes her in, and gives her poisoned wine along with eggs and toast. She thanks him for his kindness, remarks about love, her dead husband (who served in the war), and how she still believes in love. Verdoux changes his mind as she is about to sip the wine, and he spares the girl. She leaves unknowing of his cynical intentions.
Verdoux makes several attempts to murder Annabella Bonheur, including by strangulation while boating, and by poisoned wine, but she manages to escape unknowingly while putting Verdoux himself in danger or near death. Grosnay eventually relents to the continual flowers from Verdoux and invites him to her residence. Verdoux convinces her to marry him, and Grosnay's friends hold a large public wedding to Verdoux's disapproval. Unexpectedly, Bonheur shows up to the wedding. Panicking, Verdoux fakes a cramp to avoid being seen and eventually deserts the wedding.
Before the Second World War breaks out, the European markets collapse, and Verdoux loses his assets. The Girl, now well-dressed and chic, once again finds Verdoux on the street. She invites him to an elegant dinner at a high-end restaurant as a gesture of gratitude for his actions earlier. The girl has married a man she doesn't love to be well-off. Verdoux reveals that he has lost his family. At the restaurant, members of the Couvais family recognize Verdoux and attempt a pursuit. Verdoux is able to bid the girl farewell before being captured by investigators.
Verdoux is 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.
- Charlie Chaplin as Henri Verdoux. His aliases:
- Monsieur Varnay
- Monsieur Bonheur
- Monsieur Floray
- Martha Raye as Annabella Bonheur, who believes Verdoux to be Bonheur, a sea captain who is frequently away.
- Isobel Elsom as Marie Grosnay, an aged widow who is interested in purchasing Thelma's residence, who Verdoux (as Varnay) attempts to court.
- Margaret Hoffman as Lydia Floray, who believes Verdoux to be Floray, an engineer who had been away from home for months.
- Marilyn Nash as The Girl, a young woman who Verdoux meets and attempts to poison before her views on society change his mind.
- Irving Bacon as Pierre Couvais
- Edwin Mills as Jean Couvais
- Virginia Brissac as Carlotta Couvais
- Almira Sessions as Lena Couvais
- Eula Morgan as Phoebe Couvais
- William Frawley as Jean La Salle
- Mady Correll as Mona, wife of Verdoux
- Robert Lewis as Maurice Bottello, Verdoux's friend
Welles' side of the story: 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.
Chaplin's side: Orson Welles came to Chaplin's house "explaining he thought of doing a series of documentaries, one to be on the celebrated French murderer, Bluebeard Landru" which he thought would be a wonderful dramatic part for Chaplin. Chaplin was interested as he said it would be a change from comedy and writing movies himself, but once Welles explained that the script had yet to be written and he wanted Chaplin to help in writing it, Chaplin backed out. A day or so later the idea struck him that the idea of Landru would make a wonderful comedy. Chaplin then telephoned Welles saying, "Look your proposed documentary about Landru has given me an idea for a comedy. It has nothing to do with Landru, but to clear everything I am willing to pay you five thousand dollars, only because your proposition made me think of it." After negotiations Welles accepted on the terms that he could have screen credit, to read: 'Idea suggested by Orson Welles.' Chaplin stated that if he had known what Welles would eventually try to make out of it, he would have insisted on no screen credit at all.
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.
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". On the other hand, Evelyn Waugh wrote in passionate praise of the movie, despite his loathing of Chaplin's left-wing politics.
The film was popular in France, where it had admissions of 2,605,679.
Despite its poor critical and commercial performance, the film was nominated for the 1947 Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). In the decades since its release, Monsieur Verdoux has become more highly regarded.
- "Actress Marilyn Nash dies, Starred with Chaplin in 'Monsieur Verdoux'". Variety Magazine. 2011-10-14. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
- Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 54
- Balio, Tino (2009). United Artists: The Company Built by the Stars. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-23004-3. p214
- Bogdanovich, Peter and Welles, Orson This is Orson Welles, HarperPerennial 1992, ISBN 0-06-092439-X
- Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (Chaplin)
- Peary, Danny (1988). Cult Movies 3. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc. pp. 136–140. ISBN 0-671-64810-1.
- 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.
- French box office of 1948 at Box Office Story
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