The brilliant programmers at NWFF have chosen to show us Monsieur Verdoux, a film that is very relevant to today. (And I’m not saying that simply because it’s my favorite Charlie Chaplin film.) It is a film that SHOULD absolutely be seen in a THEATER with your friends and loved ones, because it’s themes demand to be discussed afterwards. Especially right now.
To do as my dear Alfred would prescribe before analyzing any film, get the MacGuffin (plot) out of the way, (so we can discuss what the film is actually ABOUT), the film is loosely based on the Bluebeard(ish) serial killer, Henri Landru, who was convicted of killing 11 people in France in the early 1900′s. He targeted middle-aged women of modest means and swindled them out of their incomes, property, possessions, etc., before killing them and getting rid of their bodies. (One can’t help but wonder if, as Charlie is on record as NEVER marrying a woman over the age of 20 (the Paulette Goddard marriage being suspect), that wasn’t an idea he might have secretly agreed with! Check out the scene where we actually SEE for the first time his seduction technique, which could prove this point!) The credits note Orson Welles as the originator of the idea, though conflicting stories exist as to what that actually means, if an idea or a script was sold to Charlie as he refused to let Orson (or anyone else, for that matter) direct him. (CAN one imagine though? Charlie Chaplin in an Orson Welles film?!!) Charlie’s life at the time was hectic, this film was released 2 years after the end of WWII when his films were not as popular at the box office as before, and his politics were starting to be questioned (again!). He had just finished a long, arduous court battle that had tarnished his reputation with the American public, due to a paternity suit brought by Joan Barry, who he admittedly had an affair with, but it was proved he did NOT father her child. (He was sentenced to provide child support anyway!) 5 years later good ol’ J. Edgar (“I only wear a dress on Tuesday”) Hoover prevented him from coming back into the country, after he had left to go to England and premiere “Limelight” (which I would recommend also, Charlie and Buster Keaton!).
SPOILER ALERT!:Charlie turns our serial killer into a charming (and obviously very athletic) man who is simply trying to provide for his crippled wife and child, during economic downturns and war. (There are a lot of parallels to my Alfred’s favorite film, “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943), the speeches about justifying the killing middle-aged women who are perceived to be useless and live off men, even after they’ve died, and his discussions with his pharmacist friend about how to kill, mirror Joseph Cotten’s “Merry Widow” speech, along with Dad and the next door neighbor’s gruesome game.) When he does get caught, he turns the tables on those who are condemning him by pointing the finger at them, how they are conspiring in a war, which kills millions, what are his crimes compared to theirs? It’s 61 years later and the question is still valid.
Themes, it’s thought-provoking themes…it’s obviously an anti-war film, but anti-ANY-war. Remember, WWII had just ended, with that ultimate bad guy, Hitler, vanquished, burned, the “War to end all Wars”, the “good” war, the “righteous war”. A war that had devastated Europe. It had changed America, devastated her economically, and emotionally, obviously caused horrendous loss of life and all the consequences these things entail, but not destroyed her lands. Charlie, having a European’s point of view on this issue, well, I couldn’t help but feel he was actually literally directing this film AT Americans. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it interesting that NO ONE in this film, that’s a French story set in France, has even a French ACCENT?! Or even bothers to ATTEMPT one?! Again, perhaps I missed someone in a bit part, but this is a France without Frenchmen, seemingly inhabited by Americans, everyone except Charlie is speaking in broad American tones. Is he showing us what it’s like to be occupied by a “friendly” ally? That it feels like there are more of the occupiers than natives? How, good OR bad, invasion IS invasion? Is he trying to get the point across that Americans should start looking at what OTHER countries think of us so as to prevent it happening again? And wouldn’t it have been nice if that message had been heeded then. So what is our responsibility now? (I told ya, demands discussion!)
And how about it’s central theme–what is or isn’t moral behavior? How do you justify the killing of other people to support the 2 you love? DO numbers sanctify? How does a serial killer compare with a nation that goes to war? And are munitions manufacturers, etc., just as guilty? Those who profit from the pain and grief of others? DO numbers sanctify?
However, do not let me discourage you for seeing the film just because it’s funny. Which it is. In this film he does something he rarely did, bring in well-known Hollywood actors. I personally think the most hilarious scenes in the film are with Martha Raye, a very well-known comedienne/personality. (Primarily known for being loud and tacky–to the extreme!) If there were such a thing as a list of who you would like to see killed on screen, she’d be on mine! And I doubt I’m the only one, it’s genius casting!
So see it because it’s funny! Or see it because it’s relevant! Or both! JUST SEE IT! NB