The tale of the Blue Beard is nothing new. Remember the Arabian nights? King Shahryar was one but the Thousands and one Night tales surrounding his heinous crime detract us from it. Days of king of kings behaving badly are gone. In a dog eat dog world of capitalism it is all profits that make man horny. Lately we read how one pizza company torched a rival company for a larger profit margin. Killing for money is the sign of the times. Insider trader from Goldman Sachs or from Citibank we have men who forget themselves by the lure of gold. Less luckier ones need make do with francs and centimes. There is so much in life so beautiful, acme of perfection and ultimate in Nature’s simplicity. These are all free and yet how many do you think turn man on or make him laugh at comedy of life? These days profits make him laugh as never before.
During the WWI there was a French man Henri Désiré Landru who lost his Gallic humor for once. To be precise whenever he proposed matrimony through classified ads. In such brutal world of centimes and euros what humor one might find except of the blackest hue? Of course he lost his head in the end. Monsieur Verdoux was released in 1947 even this day sounds black and is in keeping with the bleak future capitalism bodes for you and me.
With this comedy of murders Charles Chaplin signaled his definite break with the Tramp persona. Chaplin then wrote, directed, and starred in Monsieur Verdoux himself. The real facts are not clear but the credits give Orson Wells as the source for the idea. It is an outstanding film the Chaplinesque genius rather clouded by irrelevant particulars that have no bearing on the film. There was a paternity suit against him which he won and of course for the American Right who were sharpening their knives for another wave of Red Scare he was like a red flag. Naturally the film bombed at the box office, his first financial loss.
“Von Clausewitz said that war is the logical extension of diplomacy; Monsieur Verdoux feels that murder is the logical extension of business.” Verdoux (Chaplin), a mild-mannered family man of pre-war France, has hit upon a novel method of supporting his loved ones. He periodically heads out of town, assumes an alias, marries a foolish, wealthy woman, then murders her for the insurance money. He does this thirteen times with success, but wife #14, brassy Martha Raye, proves impossible to kill (nor does she ever suspect what Verdoux has in mind for her). A subplot develops when Verdoux, planning to test a new poison, chooses streetwalker Marilyn Nash as his guinea pig. She tells him so sad a life story that Verdoux takes pity on her, gives her some money, and sends her on her way. Years later, the widowed and impoverished Verdoux meets Nash once more; now she is the mistress of a munitions magnate. This ironic twist sets the stage for the finale, when Verdoux, finally arrested for his crimes and on trial for his life, gently argues in his own defense that he is an “amateur” by comparison to those profiteers who build weapons for war. “It’s all business. One murder makes a villain. Millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify…” Sentenced to death, Verdoux remains calmly philosophical to the end. As the condemned man walks to the guillotine, a priest prays for God to have mercy on Verdoux’s soul. “Why not?” replies Verdoux jauntily. “After all, it belongs to him.”
It is a classic performance by Mr. Chaplin, dapper and silver-haired, and he is fitly supported by a good cast, headed by Martha Raye. Miss Raye, as the most obnoxious and indestructible of the wives, is howlingly funny.
You shouldn’t miss “Monsieur Verdoux.”(NY Times-Bosley Crowther-july 4,1964)
The Prosecutor: Never, never in the history of jurisprudence have such terrifying deeds been brought to light. Gentlemen of the jury, you have before you a cruel and cynical monster. Look at him!
[all heads turn to face Verdoux, who turns around himself to look behind]
The Prosecutor: Observe him, gentlemen. This man, who has brains, if he had decent instincts, could have made an honest living. And yet, he preferred to rob and murder unsuspecting women. In fact, he made a business of it. I do not ask for vengeance, but for the protection of society. For this mass killer, I demand the extreme penalty: that he be put to death on the guillotine. The State rests its case.
Judge: Monsieur Verdoux, you have been found guilty. Have you anything to say before sentence is passed upon you?
Henri Verdoux: Oui, monsieur, I have. However remiss the prosecutor has been in complimenting me, he at least admits that I have brains. Thank you, Monsieur, I have. And for thirty-five years I used them honestly. After that, nobody wanted them. So I was forced to go into business for myself. As for being a mass killer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing? Has it not blown unsuspecting women and little children to pieces? And done it very scientifically? As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison. However, I do not wish to lose my temper, because very shortly, I shall lose my head. Nevertheless, upon leaving this spark of earthly existence, I have this to say: I shall see you all… very soon… very soon.
and here is a gem:“I love women” Monsieur Verdoux says “but I don’t admire them at all”.
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. 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”.
*In 1964, Chaplin allowed Verdoux to be re-released along with several Chaplin films to play at the New York Plaza as part of a Chaplin film festival. The film was not only the biggest hit of the entire festival, but it broke box-office records for the Plaza.(wikipedia)
running time-124 min, black and white,USA
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