“Wars, conflict, it’s all business. One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify my good fellow”
I’ve long considered Ealing’s ashen-black 1949 comedy ‘Kind Hearts & Coronets’ as being uniquely ahead of it’s time. But the third film I’ve watched from my Charlie Chaplin box set is 1947’s ‘Monsieur Verdoux’ and it approaches serial Murder from much the same Comedic angle (Of course two years earlier!). The story is by Orson Welles and is greatly inspired by the real-life French wife-killer Henri Désiré Landru. Welles pitched the idea to Chaplin but auteur that he was, Chaplin didn’t wish to be directed by someone else so he bought the idea and resolved to produce, compose, write, act and direct it himself.
Chaplin’s portrayal of Verdoux is extraordinary, as he makes a man who marries and murders rich women so sympathetic. He floats around like a camp peacock lavishing compliments and flowers on his conquests. But with his wheelchair bound first wife he is solemn and loving, it’s to provide for her that he does the killing. It’s made clear in several scenes that he originally lost all his money in the great depression, and perhaps lost a little of his sanity too. In the second half of the film he meets Martha Raye’s brash, vulgar widower who is considerably less polite and pliant than Verdoux’s other victims and is more than a match for him.
‘Monsieur Verdoux’ bombed when it was originally released, which may have been down to its dark tone, the controversial political sentiments of its final act or Chaplin’s growing persecution under the rise of McCarthyism. Whatever the reason it was shear madness, as this is simply one of most ingenious films I’ve ever seen. It remains to be seen if anything else in my Chaplin box set can rival it. I think I might watch 1931’s ‘City Lights’ next.