Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Monsieur Verdoux

Based on an idea by Orson Welles, Monsieur Verdoux is the story of a laid-off bank teller who decides to marry and kill a few widows in order to support his family. Written for the screen, directed, and starring Charles Chaplin in the titular role, the film marks a departure for the silent comedy legend who enters the world of black comedy as he plays a man eager to do what it takes to survive as he would do things that are despicable as well. Also starring Martha Raye and Marilyn Nash. Monsieur Verdoux is a witty yet sensational black comedy from Charles Chaplin.

Based on the real-life murders committed by Henri Desire Landru, the film is a comical take about Landru’s murders as Charles Chaplin plays the titular character as this man of charm and wit who kills rich widows for financial reasons to support his family who are oblivious to his actions. Even as he once a bank teller who was laid off as much of the film takes place in the 1930s during the Great Depression in France. What makes the story so engaging isn’t just Monsieur Henri Verdoux’s actions and how he tries to woo a widow. It’s also in how he plays the role of the husband and try to find the next widow to marry and later kill off. He would make many trips in various alias while taking a break to be with his real family yet he would also encounter troubles as he’s pursued by an investigator as well as an annoying widow who is very hard to kill.

One aspect of the story that is crucial to Verdoux’s development is the meeting of a young woman (Marilyn Nash) who had just been released in prison as he intended to poison her but changes his mind after hearing her story. It’s a moment in the film where Verdoux’s very intricate world of schemes begins to fall apart when he’s unable to kill the annoying Annabella Bonheur (Martha Raye) due to a series of misfortunes while the chance to marry another rich widow in Marie Grosnay (Isobel Elsom) also is mired by misfortune. It all plays to the film’s third act where Verdoux is also being pursued by a family of a woman he had married as well as other things that relates to the financial troubles during the Depression in Europe.

Chaplin’s direction for the film is quite straightforward in some respects while he does create some unique compositions in the way he frames himself and the other actors. While there are some moments of slapstick, it is mostly restrained in moments where Chaplin goes for something more low-key in the way Verdoux conducts his business and such. Even in some of the dramatic moments while trying to find ways to make the humor feel natural. One aspect of the film that is interesting is the way he starts the film where its second scene is about a family wondering about someone as they’re not getting any money. It would set the stage for things to come as the film has an air of mystery about Verdoux and his life. Even as Chaplin would say something about Verdoux’s action and how he has managed to be so calm about everything he had been through. Overall, Chaplin creates a very funny yet compelling film about a man murdering rich widows for money.

Cinematographer Roland Totheroh, with additional work by Curt Courant, does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to play into the look of some of the film‘s exteriors as well as the use of shades and lighting for some of the film‘s interiors. Editor Willard Nico does nice work in maintaining a straightforward approach to the editing with some transitional fade-outs for the film‘s structure as well as some methodical cuts to play with the film‘s suspense. Art director John Beckman does excellent work with the set pieces from the homes of the widows as well as the house of antiques that Verdoux lives in Paris.

Wardrobe supervisor Drew Tetrick does terrific work with the costumes as it plays to the look of the 1930s with the suits that Verdoux wears as well as some of the dresses of the women. Makeup artist William Night and hair stylist Hedvig Mjorund does superb work with the look of Verdoux with his hair and the mustache that he sports in the film. The sound work of James T. Corrigan is wonderful for the atmosphere that goes in some of the film‘s quieter moments along with some pretty effective sound work for a party scene where Verdoux is to marry someone only to find one of his wives. The film’s music by Charles Chaplin is just brilliant for its very playful orchestral score that is filled with sumptuous string arrangements as it also includes some brooding and heavy themes for its darker moments.

The film’s amazing cast includes some noteworthy small performances from Mady Correll as Verdoux’s ailing yet loving wife, Allison Roddan as his son Peter, Robert Lewis and Audrey Betz as family friends the Bottellos, Barbara Slater as a flower shop girl, Ada May Weeks as the Bonheur’s maid, Edwin Mills and Virginia Brissac as family members of a widow that Verdoux married, and Charles Evans in a terrific performance as Detective Morrow who had been following Verdoux to see what he’s up to. Isobel Elsom is wonderful as the aging widow Marie Grosnay who is wooed by Verdoux unaware of what is going to happen to her.

Martha Raye is an absolute riot as the annoying Annabella Bonheur as this very dim-witted woman who spends her money foolishly on all sorts of things as she also manages to steal a few scenes from Chaplin as well as proving to be a great equal in terms of the comedic moments they have together. Marilyn Nash is fantastic as the girl that Verdoux meets in the film’s second act as she is a lonely woman that Verdoux pities as he gives her money as they would later meet again as she would play a key part in Verdoux’s own ideas about the fallacy of humanity. Finally, there’s Charles Chaplin in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as he displays a dark charm to his character but also one with a sense of humanity that makes him very compelling where it’s Chaplin being funny but also being dramatic as it’s one of his finest performances.

Monsieur Verdoux is a remarkable film from Charles Chaplin. While it is a very different film from many of his silent comedies as well as the fact that he’s not playing any variation of his famed Tramp character. It is still a very smart film that isn’t afraid to be dark while also finding humor in something as horrible like murder. In the end, Monsieur Verdoux is an exhilarating film from Charles Chaplin.

Charles Chaplin Films: (Twenty Minutes of Love) - (Caught in the Rain) - (A Busy Day) - (Her Friend the Bandit) - (Mabel’s Married Life) - (Laughing Gas) - (The Face On the Bar Room Floor) - (Recreation) - (The Masquerader) - (His New Profession) - The Rounders - (The Property Man) - (The New Janitor) - (Those Love Pangs) - (Dough & Dynamite) - (Gentlemen of Nerve) - (His Musical Career) - (His Trysting Place) - (Getting Acquainted) - (His Prehistoric Past) - (His New Job) - (A Night Out) - (The Champion) - (In the Park) - (A Jitney Elopement) - (The Tramp) - (By the Sea (1915 film)) - (His Regeneration) - (Work (1915 film) - (A Woman) - (The Bank) - (Shanghaied) - (A Night in the Snow) - (Burlesque on Carmen) - (Police (1916 film)) - (Triple Trouble) - (The Floorwalker) - (The Fireman) - (The Vagabond) - (One A.M. (1916 film)) - (The Count) - (The Pawnshop) - (Behind the Screen) - (The Rink) - (Easy Street) - (The Cure (1917 film)) - (The Immigrant (1917 film)) - (The Adventurer) - A Dog’s Life - (The Bond) - Shoulder Arms - Sunnyside - A Day’s Pleasure - (The Professor) - The Kid - The Idle Class - Pay Day - The Pilgrim - A Woman of Paris - The Gold Rush - The Circus - City Lights - Modern Times - The Great Dictator - Limelight - A King in New York - (A Countess from Hong Kong)

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