Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947)

Charles Chaplin will forever be known in the public memory as the Little Tramp, and while that's understandable, it's not really fair when you look at a brilliant film like Monsieur Verdoux. Based on an idea by Orson Welles, it was supposed to be directed by Welles, but Chaplin, after years away from American film, decided that he had never been directed by someone else, so why start now? (What artist has that sort of freedom in the studio system now?!) Unfortunately, the dark subject matter and Chaplin's left-wing politics stopped the film from getting the recognition at the moment that it deserved, but audiences have rediscovered it since.

Chaplin plays the titular character, a banker who was laid off during the French depression, and, unable to find another job, has made his living since by marrying and murdering rich women. It doesn't seem shocking now, but in 1947, a comedy made about a sympathetic murderer was absolutely controversial. Verdoux is very sympathetic, in fact; his scenes with his invalid wife and son are absolutely touching, and he has a moment as touching as anything the Little Tramp did when he promises them they will never have to live in poverty again. In fact, traces of the Little Tramp show through Verdoux's character sometimes, especially during the delightful slapstick episodes.

Verdoux's plan works for years, but he is eventually caught and brought to "justice." Verdoux has some heavy-handed speeches at the end of the film, and while I appreciated their message, they brought down the tone of the film in the pivotal moment. Chaplin's extreme left-wing politics are obvious near the end of the film, another reason why post-war American audiences were wary of the film. Chaplin compares Verdoux's murders to those of world governments during the wars, and says that one murder makes a villian, millions, a hero. Again, that doesn't seem shocking today, but think about how that statement looks from an expatriate American in France right after World War II. Wow. Chaplin's got guts, I'll tell you that much.

This film is hilarious, both in its dark humor elements and the physical comedy, and touching, especially in Chaplin's scenes with the young woman just out of jail. Not my favorite Chaplin (that still belongs to The Kid), but a perfect post-silent Chaplin vehicle.


RIYL: Black comedies, Charles Chaplin, Unfaithfully Yours (another black comedy of the same approximate time about murder)

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