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Monsieur Verdoux

October 20, 2010

197. Monsieur Verdoux
Directed by Charlie Chaplin

USA, 1947
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Rachel
First viewing

Synopsis:

After his long career as a bank clerk hits the skids, Henri Verdoux makes a living by marrying and murdering rich women for their money. With many wives and many lives, he’s at risk of being caught. But with his real family desperately needing an income, he continues in his life of crime.

Essential Scene:

Madame Grosnay (Isobel Elsom) — an elegant, well dressed middle-aged woman — comes to view Monsieur Verdoux’s house. When he learns that she is a rich widow, he is determined to woo her. While the estate agent accompanying her is taking a phone call, Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin) shows her the bedroom and works his charm. After discussing their supposedly mutual star-sign, he makes his move.

Verdoux: Because companionship is so essential to Aries people.

Grosnay: Oh, it’s too late for that now.

Verdoux: [Laughs] Oh, what nonsense! You’re just on the threshold of life. One never begins to live until one is past.. Er.. Er.. [Looks at her] er.. [laughs] What difference does age make?

Grosnay: A great deal to a woman.

Verdoux: I venture to say that you were never as attractive as you are now.

Grosnay: You’re very kind.

Verdoux: On the contrary, I’m very frank. No doubt you were extremely beautiful as a young girl, but your youth could never compete with your age now. Your ripeness, your luxuriousness. Besides, you have more character now, more experience, more… More, er… More everything.

Grosnay: You flatter me.

Verdoux: Why not? Why shouldn’t I respond to beauty as you did to those flowers downstairs. “What lovely roses,” you said and impulsively drew them near to your lips. [Laughs] Lucky roses.

[Grosnay laughs]

Verdoux: I only wish I had the courage to act upon my impulses. However, life is that way. We can’t. [He takes a hold of her hand] You are divine. You are lovely. Words are so futile, I feel I’ve known you all my life.

Madame Grosnay tries to get away, but Verdoux follows her around the room.

Verdoux: You must — please!

Grosnay: This is ridiculous!

Verdoux: No, no, this is beautiful, inevitable! We can’t help ourselves! Your loveliness inspired it, blame your loveliness for it.

Grosnay: Don’t be silly!

Verdoux: Please, try to understand, don’t embarrass me. Oh, those silly conventions. This is more than a convention. I hate to be obvious, really.

Madame Grosnay gasps as she sees the estate agent at the door, back from his phone call. Verdoux covers his tracks.

Verdoux: Oh yes, there it goes! It’s a bee! Hold still, I’ll get it! [claps hands together] Haha! Isn’t that silly!

Verdoux promptly steps back and falls backwards out of window.

Thoughts:

I understand what Chaplin was aiming for here. With his penchant for sentimentality, he couldn’t do a comedy solely about a serial killer. His Monsieur Verdoux was forced to choose this way of life to support his child and invalid wife, after being a victim of a changing and failing economy. A working man, a cog in the machine, driven to crime after being dumped on from a great height by a bureaucracy he’d worked for his whole life. A good point and a good story.

But there was something just didn’t gel, I can’t quite put my finger on it. The character and his motives are complex but not always plausible. You have the kind and sympathetic Verdoux, who is driven to commit such horrid crimes as a last resort. This is juxtaposed with the foppish, scheming Verdoux who is clearly enjoying these murders, and is our comic element. The jumbled combination of the black comedy, socio-political statements and sentimentality seemed to clash a little.

Saying that, I did enjoy the black comedy element of this film. I just wish there was a touch more of it. His failed murder attempts, the way he picks out his prey. I’m a sucker for the macabre.

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