Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles
Charles Chaplin, Mady Correll, Allison Roddan, Robert Lewis, Audrey Betz, Martha Raye, Ada-May
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After the collapse of the silent era, Charlie Chaplin was not easily able to transition into the talkies. Despite having an interesting voice, his style of comedy was no longer desired. The likes of The Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello had replaced not only Chaplin’s brand of humor, but also that of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and others.
Still, Chaplin chose his post-silent projects well, and they have been well received. One of those films, Monsieur Verdoux, tries to revive some elements of his comedy schtick by blending them into a non-mysterious murder mystery and then tucking in some social commentary along with it. Verdoux tells the story of a con man trying to make a living for his family by marrying rich women and then disposing of their bodies. His success has been long lived, but the members of one of his victim’s families are intent on bringing down the man who took their relation away from them and who hasn’t been heard from since. While he’s attempting to make his living, constantly one step ahead of the police and all would-be pursuers, Verdoux meets a kind young woman who has recently gotten out of prison and is looking to start her life anew and help her invalid husband survive. He takes mercy on her before returning to his latest plan, to test the effectiveness of a new untraceable poison which will make his schemes more feasible and potentially profitable.
It’s hard to judge a film that tries so frequently to mix in sight gags that worked in Chaplin’s silent films, but which seem out of place in the days of sound production. The dialogue in the film isn’t particularly astute, but the cleverness of Verdoux’s various schemes provide a well above average script. The performances are a bit haphazard. Apart from Chaplin, the actors seem to be building their characters on a one-dimensional premise and not developing them into ones we care much for. Yet Chaplin does a generally strong, though occasionally uneven job. When he’s lamenting or scheming, he works his magic, but every time he stops the film to do another silent bit, you’re dragged from the entertainment.
It’s very hard to judge a movie like Monsieur Verdoux. It’s unnecessary tethers to an absent era of filmmaking distract the audience from a potentially compelling narrative. A man trying to make a living for his wheelchair-bound wife and young daughter has the potential for poignancy and you get a sense of that throughout; and despite the despicable methods Verdoux employs, he remains a sympathetic character. It’s a film that will certainly divide different types of people and it’s almost impossible to categorize it in such a way as to find the right person to which it can be recommended.
December 13, 2010