Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Directed by Charles Chaplin

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Having lost his job as a bank clerk because of the Great Depression, Henri Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) decides to support himself, his invalid wife, and his young son by marrying a succession of middle-aged women and then killing them for their money.

While Charles Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux is unlikely ever to awe the viewer, it is, for much of its duration, an entertaining film that may elicit the occasional laugh.


The movie is made particularly enjoyable as a result of its appealing characters. The director's conniving protagonist is especially well realized. Surprisingly, he is not as wholly villainous as the viewer may expect him to be. While the eponymous hero is self-serving and willing to deceive or murder others for profit, Chaplin reveals that he is not simply a monster. In various touching scenes, the director brings out Monsieur Verdoux's kindness towards animals, his love for his crippled wife, his compassion for a young woman who has just been released from prison, and so on.


By stressing the the presence of such diverse traits in the character's personality, the director reminds the moviegoer of the complexity of human nature. He exposes how men, though capable of callousness or even cruelty, are capable of genuine kindness as well. Throughout his film, Chaplin thereby tinges his depictions of mankind's failings both with a sense of tragedy and with a humorousness, so that the viewer cannot help but laugh at man's sorrows and his nastiness.


What is more, the tale in which such themes are incorporated is often ingenious. The director's presentations of Monsieur Verdoux's schemes, the character's various efforts to deceive his numerous wives, his plots to experiment with an undetectable poison, his attempts to escape from the police, and the like are often cleverly realized and are sure to hold the viewer's attention. Many of the incidents are cruelly hilarious and several are also suffused with such a sense of tension that the moviegoer will not be able to bear to look away from the screen.


Sadly, the film is far from perfect. Perhaps its greatest weakness is its conclusion. Much of Monsieur Verdoux's final act is frankly forced, its dramatic impetus having largely been subordinated to Chaplin's desire to make a moral point. Not only does he demand that his protagonist pays for his crimes, but he also uses him to preach to the moviegoer about the inhumanity and heartlessness of those persons who make their living from the sufferings of others. I certainly sympathize with the director's sentiments, but the point he is making is entirely extraneous to the movie and just distracts the viewer.

Whatever its flaws, Monsieur Verdoux is an enjoyable, occasionally incisive film. Even if it fails to make a profound impression on the viewer, it will, surely, amuse him.

Review by Keith Allen

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