Monsieur Verdoux

Poster
1947
Charlie Chaplin

8/10 (not that funny; drags a little)

This is the film that, along with his personal scandals and political leanings, got Chaplin banned from the U.S. It’s a fascinating story about an honest family man who, when he loses his bank job of 30+ years in the beginning of the Great Depression, turns to a life of crime: wooing and marrying old rich women in order to kill them for their money. Chaplin doesn’t play as much for laughs, although there are some chuckles sprinkled throughout. Instead he seems intent on telling a bitterly satirical story about the harshness of our world and the desperate things it causes people to do.

A near-sociopathic serial killer is not the typical subject matter for a light-hearted comedy, which is probably why this film feels uneven. I think Chaplin (or maybe Jim Carrey nowadays) is probably the only person who could make it as good as it is. For that reason I wouldn’t call it a comedy, but rather a satirical drama. He displays some real acting skills at certain points, most notably in the scene with the Belgian parolee, and again towards the end, after his family has died.

Speaking of the end, he offers up some rather scathing criticisms of the military-industrial complex and of capitalism in general. After seeing this and “Limelight,” I have become a huge fan of his speaking roles. He offers up some incredibly poignant observations about life, culture, and even religion, often veering into mystical territory. And he does it almost exclusively with snappy one-liners that leave you wishing you had more time to think about them before he continues on to the next witty observation. All in all, this is a good film to round out your Chaplin education, but by no means essential. As with “Limelight,” I would recommend watching his silent (lighter) stuff first. “Monsieur,” of course, is the logical and thematic sequel to “Modern Times.”

The following goes for all Chaplin films that will appear here. I am ashamed that it took me as long as it did to begin watching his films and appreciate him as an artist. The first movies of his that I viewed, I literally sat slack-jawed as I watched. Nothing I had seen of modern entertainers prepared me for the virtuosity of this one man. Nothing we have nowadays even approaches the level of talent that he (and IMO to a lesser extent Buster Keaton) displayed. He was an artist in the true sense of the word. Just think: the amount of talent necessary to write, direct, choreograph, invent, compose music for, and act in all of these productions staggers the imagination. Just look at the list in that last sentence. HE DID ALL OF THOSE THINGS BY HIMSELF, FOR LIKE 30 YEARS, WITH MORE THAN 20 MOVIES! I consider him on the same level as Shakespeare, Mozart and Dante for what he has done with the arts. Who living even approaches the shadow that Chaplin cast in terms of all-around entertainment value? I defy you to name even one person.

It pisses me off that he’s not better appreciated nowadays.

22 March 2010

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