1941, soon after The Great Dictator was released, Orson Welles approached
Charlie Chaplin about playing the lead in a movie Welles wanted to direct.
The movie would be loosely bases on the life of Herni Landru, a Frenchman
who had been convinced of murdering eight women. Welles had written the
darkly comic part with Chaplin in mind. Chaplin was very interested,
but finally declined because he did not want to have anyone else direct
him. Since he couldn't see anyone else play Landru, Welles agreed
to sell the concept and a rough script to Chaplin for $5,000 and a screen
credit if the move was ever produced.
Chaplin then spent some time toying with other script ideas and traveling.
It wasn't until 1945 that Chaplin started working on the story that would
become Monsieur Verdoux. After selecting his cast, filming
began in April of 1946 and wrapped up a little less than a year later.
This was to be a totally talking film. Chaplin was trying to catch
up with the times and release something more contemporary. But it
really didn't work. The direction was stogy and the movie had the
feel of something from the early 30's, not the late 40's.
Verdoux was a bank clerk. He worked for the same bank for a good
number of years and did an acceptable job, until the depression came and
he was fired. He has an invalid wife and child to support, but can't
find a job, so he hits upon the scheme of marring rich women and then killing
them to get their money. Things are going well until he meets a woman
who isn't easy to kill.
This movie just doesn't work for me. It is as if Chaplin is no
longer trying to charm the audiences with humor and gentle romance.
There were elements of drama, dark humor and slapstick, but where Chaplin
had been able to masterfully blend these disparate elements together in
the past, he wasn't able to do so this time. The picture doesn't
flow smoothly like his earlier films. It is too jarring and can't
seem to make up its mind what it wants to be.
The film is slow moving too. Clocking in at two hours, the pace
is very slow, and this second talkie of Chaplin's suffers from being overly
verbose. Chaplin has forgotten the beautiful subtlety of his best
movies. There is very little that is subtle, from the acting to the
dialog, which hurts the film greatly.
The worst aspect of the film is its preachy message at the end.
Here Verdoux describes his murders as just capitalism in action.
His speech also implies that capitalism causes war: "It's all business,
one murder makes a villain, a million a hero." It is insultingly
simpleminded and very heavy handed. It was the equivalent of a giant
mallet hit on the top of the audience's head, an insulting one at that.
That is not to say that the movie is a total failure, there are some
bright spots. Martha Raye gives a great performance as one of Verdoux's
romances, and there are some very funny bits, especially the scene in the
boat. But these parts are overshadowed by the film's failures.
This movie was mastered from a PAL video source and converted to NTSC.
What does that mean? Without going into the details, it means that the film runs 4% faster than it
should. The pitch seems to have been corrected on the soundtrack,
but the playing times are still 4% shorter than they should be. This
is very unfortunate, but not a huge deal. About the only way to notice
the difference is to check the run times, the slight speed up is not noticeable
to the casual viewer. Even someone familiar with the movie would
be very hard pressed to see the difference, it is very slight.
This is a single DVD, unlike most of the other DVDs in this set.
There are still a good amount of extras and bonus features.
Audio: This talking picture has both the original English
soundtrack, and a French dub. There is the choice of the original
mono audio, or a 5.1 mix. Both have been remastered. There
is not a lot of difference between the mono and 5.1 tracks. The mono
is a little thinner and not as full sounding, but neither track is dynamic
and vibrant, due to the nature of the movie. A pleasant sounding
DVD, there are no audio defects that one usually associates with a film
of this age.
Video: The video on this DVD was very good. The picture
has been restored from elements obtained from Chaplin's own film vault,
and the picture looks as good as the day it was released. A transfer
that is sure to please all fans.
Introduction by David Robinson (5 min): The Chaplin biographer
puts Monsieur Verdoux into historical perspective and gives some background
to the film. He mentions Welles involvement, but doesn't believe
that he wrote the script.
Chaplin Today: Monsieur Verdoux (26 minutes): Another
in a series of featurettes about each of Chaplin's films. This installment
includes comments by French filmmaker Claude Chabrol, and his feeling about
Monsieur Verdoux. Chaplin's problems with HUAC are also mentioned.
Plan Drawings for the Set and Preparatory Sketches: Blueprints
and production sketches are compared to scenes in the film.
Photo Gallery: Some production stills from the movie.
Movie Posters: A selection of movie posters advertising
Verdoux from all around the world.
Trailers (5 min): A collection of trailers from the release
of Monsieur Verdoux.
Chaplin Collection (12 min): A selection of scenes from
each of the movies in the Chaplin Collection.
While not a perfect film, it is still of interest to Chaplin fans like
myself. The film starts off a little slowly, but it picks up in the
second half. While I found the end a little preachy and overbearing,
the film shouldn't be discounted because of that. If you are a big
Chaplin fan be sure to view this one, but others would be advised to rent