Monsieur Verdoux

Last updated

Monsieur Verdoux
Monsieur Verdoux poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster (1947)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced byCharlie Chaplin
Screenplay byCharlie Chaplin
Story by Orson Welles
Starring
Music byCharlie Chaplin
Cinematography Roland Totheroh
Curt Courant (uncredited)
Edited byWillard Nico
Distributed by United Artists (1947 release)
Columbia Pictures (1972 re-release)
Janus Films
Release date
  • April 11, 1947 (1947-04-11)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Box office$323,000 (US)
$1.5 million (international) [2] [3]

Monsieur Verdoux is a 1947 American black comedy film directed by and starring Charlie 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.

Contents

Plot

Henri Verdoux had been a bank teller for thirty years before being laid off. To support his wheelchair-bound wife and child, he turns to the business of marrying and murdering wealthy widows. The Couvais family becomes suspicious when Thelma Couvais withdraws all her money and disappears two weeks after marrying a man named "Varnay", whom they only know through a photograph.

As Verdoux (Chaplin) prepares to sell Thelma Couvais's home, the widowed Marie Grosnay (Isobel Elsom) visits. Verdoux sees her as another "business" opportunity and attempts to charm her, but she refuses. Over the following weeks, Verdoux has a flower girl (Barbara Slater) repeatedly send Grosnay flowers. In need of money to invest, Verdoux, as M. Floray, visits Lydia Floray (Margaret Hoffman) and convinces her he is her absent husband. She complains that his engineering job has kept him away too long. That night, Verdoux murders her for her money.

At a dinner party with his real wife and their friend the local chemist, Verdoux asks the chemist about the drug he developed to exterminate animals painlessly. The chemist explains the formula and that he had to stop working on it after the local pharmaceutical board banned it. Verdoux says he could test the drug by using it on a tramp off the street, then laughs it off as a morbid joke. Later at his furniture office he attempts to recreate the drug.

Shortly thereafter, Verdoux finds The Girl (Marilyn Nash) taking shelter from the rain in a doorway and takes her in. When he finds she was just released from prison and has nowhere to go, he prepares dinner for her with wine laced with his newly developed poison. Before drinking the wine, she thanks him for his kindness, and starts to talk about her husband who died while she was in jail. After she says her husband was a helpless invalid and that made her all the more devoted to him, Verdoux says he thinks there's cork in her wine and replaces it with a glass of unpoisoned wine. She leaves without knowing of his cynical intentions.

Verdoux makes several attempts to murder Annabella Bonheur (Martha Raye), who believes Verdoux to be Bonheur, a sea captain who is frequently away, including by strangulation while boating, and by poisoned wine, but she is impervious, repeatedly escaping death without even realizing while, at the same time, putting Verdoux himself in danger or near death. Meanwhile, Grosnay eventually softens and relents from the continual flowers from Verdoux and invites him to her residence. He 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.

In the years leading up to Second World War, European markets collapse, with the subsequent bank failures causing Verdoux to go bankrupt. The economic crisis leads to rise of fascism across Europe. A few years later, in 1937, with the Spanish Civil War underway, The Girl, now well-dressed and chic, once again finds Verdoux on a street corner in Paris. 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 wealthy munitions executive 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 delays them long enough to bid the unnamed girl farewell before letting himself be captured by the investigators.

Verdoux is exposed and convicted of murder. When he is sentenced in the courtroom, rather than expressing remorse he takes the opportunity to say that the world encourages mass killers, and that compared to the makers of modern weapons he is but an amateur. Later, before being led from his cell to the guillotine, a journalist asks him for a story with a moral, but he answers evasively, dismissing his killing of a few, for which he has been condemned, as not worse than the killing of many in war, for which others are honored, "Wars, conflict - it's all business. One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow!" His last visitor before being taken to be executed is a priest (Fritz Leiber). When guards come to take him to the guillotine he is offered a cigarette, which he refuses, and a glass of rum, which he also refuses before changing his mind. He says "I've never tasted rum", downs the glass, and the priest begins reciting a prayer in Latin as the guards lead him away and the film ends.

Cast

Production

Fellow American actor-writer-director Orson Welles received a 'story by' credit in the film. Chaplin and Welles disagree on the exact circumstances that led to the film's production, although both men agree that Welles initially approached Chaplin with the idea of having Chaplin star in a film as either a character based on Landru or Landru himself. However, from there, both men's stories diverge considerably.

Welles claims that he was developing a film of his own and was inspired to cast Chaplin as a character based on Landru. Chaplin initially agreed, but he later backed out at the last minute, not wanting to act for another director. However, Chaplin later offered to buy the script from him, and as Welles was in desperate need of money, he signed away all rights to Chaplin. According to Welles, Chaplin then rewrote several major sections, including the ending; the only specific scene to which Welles lays claim is the opening. Welles acknowledges that Chaplin claims to have no memory of receiving a script from Welles, and believes Chaplin is telling the truth when he says this. [4]

Chaplin claims that Welles came to his house with the idea 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 initially interested, as it would provide him with an opportunity for a more dramatic role, as well as saving him the trouble of having to write the film himself. However, Chaplin claims that Welles then explained that the script had not yet been written and he wanted Chaplin's help to do so. As a result, Chaplin dropped out of Welles' project. Very shortly thereafter, the idea struck Chaplin that Landru's story would make a good comedy. Chaplin then telephoned Welles and told him that while his new idea had nothing to do with Welles' proposed documentary or with Landru, he was willing to pay Welles five thousand dollars in order to "clear everything." After negotiations, Welles accepted on the terms that he would receive a "story by" screen credit. Chaplin later stated that he would have insisted on no screen credit at all had he known that Welles would eventually try to take credit for the idea. [5]

Reception

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 some similarity). While immediately after the end of World War II on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean appeared a spate of films, including in 1946 It's a Wonderful Life and A Matter of Life and Death , which drew on so many people's experience of loss of loved ones and offered a kind of consolation, [6] on the contrary Monsieur Verdoux reproposed the dark themes emerged from the war conflict. Consequently, it was poorly received in America when it first premiered. Moreover, Chaplin's popularity and public image had been irrevocably damaged by many scandals and political controversies before its release. [7] However, the film was more successful in Europe.

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. In New Jersey, the film was picketed by members of the Catholic War Veterans, who carried placards calling for Chaplin to be deported. In Denver, similar protests against the film by the American Legion managed to prevent it being shown. [8] A censorship board in Memphis, Tennessee, banned Monsieur Verdoux outright. [9] 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". [10] Richard Coe in the Washington Post lauded Monsieur Verdoux, calling it "a bold, brilliant and bitterly amusing film." [11] James Agee praised Monsieur Verdoux, calling the film "a great poem" and "one of the few indispensable works of our time". [12] Evelyn Waugh praised Monsieur Verdoux as "a startling and mature work of art", although Waugh also added that he thought "there is a 'message' and I think, a deplorable one" in the film. [13]

The film was popular in France, where it had admissions of 2,605,679. [14]

Despite its poor commercial performance, the film was nominated for the 1947 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It also won the National Board of Review award for Best Film [15] and the Bodil Award for Best American Film. In the decades since its release, Monsieur Verdoux has become more highly regarded. [7]

Related Research Articles

Charlie Chaplin British comic actor and filmmaker

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen persona, The Tramp, and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977, and encompassed both adulation and controversy.

<i>The Great Dictator</i> 1940 Charlie Chaplins comedy film satirizing fascism

The Great Dictator is a 1940 American political satire comedy-drama film written, directed, produced, scored by, and starring British comedian Charlie Chaplin, following the tradition of many of his other films. Having been the only Hollywood filmmaker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, Chaplin made this his first true sound film.

<i>City Lights</i> 1931 film

City Lights is a 1931 American pre-Code silent romantic comedy film written, produced, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin. The story follows the misadventures of Chaplin's Tramp as he falls in love with a blind girl and develops a turbulent friendship with an alcoholic millionaire.

<i>The Gold Rush</i> 1925 film

The Gold Rush is a 1925 American comedy film written, produced, and directed by Charlie Chaplin. The film also stars Chaplin in his Little Tramp persona, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Bergman, and Malcolm Waite.

<i>The Immigrant</i> (1917 film) 1917 film by Charlie Chaplin

The Immigrant is a 1917 American silent romantic comedy short. The film stars Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character as an immigrant coming to the United States who is accused of theft on the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and falls in love with a beautiful young woman along the way. It also stars Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell.

<i>Modern Times</i> (film) 1936 comedy film by Charles Chaplin

Modern Times is a 1936 American silent comedy film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin in which his iconic Little Tramp character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and financial conditions many people faced during the Great Depression — conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization. The movie stars Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford and Chester Conklin. It is notable for being the last time that Chaplin portrayed the Tramp character and for being the first time Chaplin's voice is heard on film.

<i>The Circus</i> (1928 film) 1928 film by Charlie Chaplin

The Circus is a 1928 silent film written, produced, and directed by Charlie Chaplin. The film stars Chaplin, Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Harry Crocker, George Davis and Henry Bergman. The ringmaster of an impoverished circus hires Chaplin's Little Tramp as a clown, but discovers that he can only be funny unintentionally.

Henri Désiré Landru French murderer

Henri Désiré Landru was a French serial killer, nicknamed the Bluebeard of Gambais, who murdered at least seven women in the village of Gambais between December 1915 and January 1919. Landru also killed at least three other women, plus a young man, at a house he rented from December 1914 to August 1915 in the town of Vernouillet, 35 km northwest of Paris. The true number of Landru's victims, whose remains were never found, was almost certainly higher.

<i>A Woman of Paris</i> 1923 film

A Woman of Paris is a feature-length American silent film that debuted in 1923. The film, an atypical drama film for its creator, was written, directed, produced and later scored by Charlie Chaplin. It is also known as A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate.

Mabel Normand American actress, screenwriter, director, and producer

Amabel Ethelreid Normand was an American silent-film actress, screenwriter, director, and producer. She was a popular star and collaborator of Mack Sennett in his Keystone Studios films, and at the height of her career in the late 1910s and early 1920s had her own movie studio and production company. Onscreen, she appeared in 12 successful films with Charlie Chaplin and 17 with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, sometimes writing and directing movies featuring Chaplin as her leading man.

<i>The Cats Meow</i> 2001 film by Peter Bogdanovich

The Cat's Meow is a 2001 historical drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and starring Kirsten Dunst, Eddie Izzard, Edward Herrmann, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Tilly. The screenplay by Steven Peros is based on his 1997 play of the same title, which was inspired by the mysterious death of film mogul Thomas H. Ince that occurred on William Randolph Hearst's yacht during a weekend cruise celebrating Ince's birthday in November 1924. Among those in attendance were Hearst's longtime companion and film actress Marion Davies, fellow actor Charlie Chaplin, writer Elinor Glyn, columnist Louella Parsons, and actress Margaret Livingston. The film provides a speculative assessment on the unclear manner of Ince's death.

<i>Endymion</i> (poem)

Endymion is a poem by John Keats first published in 1818 by Taylor and Hessey of Fleet Street in London. John Keats dedicated this poem to the late poet Thomas Chatterton. The poem begins with the line "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever". Endymion is written in rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter. Keats based the poem on the Greek myth of Endymion, the shepherd beloved of the moon goddess Selene. The poem elaborates on the original story and renames Selene "Cynthia".

<i>The Vagabond</i> (1916 film) 1916 film by Charlie Chaplin

The Vagabond is a 1916 American silent romantic comedy film by Charlie Chaplin and his third film with Mutual Films. Released to theaters on July 10, 1916, it co-starred Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Leo White and Lloyd Bacon. This film echoed Chaplin's work on The Tramp, with more drama and pathos mixed in with the comedy.

<i>A Countess from Hong Kong</i>

A Countess from Hong Kong is a 1967 British romantic comedy film scored, written, and directed by Charlie Chaplin and starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Sydney Chaplin, Tippi Hedren, Patrick Cargill and Margaret Rutherford. It was the last film directed, written, produced and scored by Chaplin, and one of two films Chaplin directed in which he did not play a major role, as well as his only color film. Chaplin's cameo marked his final screen appearance.

Wheeler Dryden

George Dryden Wheeler Jr., known better as Wheeler Dryden, was an English-born American actor and film director. He was the son of Hannah Chaplin and music hall entertainer Leo Dryden, and younger half-brother of actors Sir Charlie and Sydney Chaplin.

<i>The Chaplin Revue</i> 1959 film

The Chaplin Revue is a 1959 film comprising three silent films made by Charlie Chaplin. The three shorts included are A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms, and The Pilgrim. All three star Chaplin's trademark character, The Tramp. For the 1959 release, Chaplin added a soundtrack to help appeal to modern audiences. Chaplin also added extra footage including clips from World War I to express the context. He provides a personal introduction to each of the clips.

A lonely hearts killer is a criminal who commits murder by contacting a victim who has either posted advertisements to or answered advertisements via newspaper classified ads and personal or lonely hearts ads.

A film à clef, is a film describing real life, behind a façade of fiction. "Key" in this context means a table one can use to swap out the names.

Marilyn Nash was an American actress and casting director. She was best known for starring in the 1947 Charlie Chaplin film Monsieur Verdoux.

Mady Correll was a Canadian-American actress. She made her screen debut in Midnight Madonna after years on Broadway theatre and later starred in Monsieur Verdoux.

References

  1. 1 2 Variety Staff (October 14, 2011). "Actress Marilyn Nash dies. Starred with Chaplin in 'Monsieur Verdoux'". Variety . Archived from the original on January 20, 2012. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  2. Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 pg. 54
  3. Balio, Tino (2009). United Artists: The Company Built by the Stars. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 214. ISBN   978-0-299-23004-3.
  4. Bogdanovich, Peter and Orson Welles, This is Orson Welles , HarperPerennial 1992, ISBN   0-06-092439-X
  5. Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography (Chaplin)
  6. Srampickal, Jacob; Mazza, Giuseppe; Baugh, Lloyd, eds. (2006). Cross Connections. Rome: Gregorian Biblical BookShop. p.  199. ISBN   978-8-878-39061-4.
  7. 1 2 Peary, Danny (2014). "Monsieur Verdoux". Cult Crime Movies. Discover the 35 Best Dark, Dangerous, Thrilling, and Noir Cinema Classics. New York City: Workman Publishing. ISBN   978-0-76118433-1.
  8. Caute, David, The Great Fear: The Anti-Communist Purge Under Truman & Eisenhower. New York; Simon & Schuster, 1978. ISBN   0-671-22682-7 (p. 516)
  9. New York Times , June 11, 1947, p.33
  10. Flores Alvarez, Olivia (October 9, 2008). "Monsieur Verdoux: Charlie Chaplin's post-WWII film is a comedy of murders". Houston Press . Retrieved December 8, 2012.
  11. Maland,Charles J. Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image. Princeton University Press, 1991. ISBN   9780691028606 (p.247)
  12. Agee, James, Film Writing and Selected Journalism. Library of America, ISBN   9781931082822, 2005. (pg. 293-303)
  13. Davis, Robert Murray, Evelyn Waugh, writer. Pilgrim Books, 1981. ISBN   0937664006 (p.213)
  14. French box office of 1948, BoxOfficeStory.com; accessed November 17, 2017.
  15. "Best Film Archives – National Board of Review". National Board of Review . Retrieved February 2, 2015.