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Monsieur Verdoux: SE

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . B&W . 119 mins . PG . PAL


The film that contributed heavily to Charlie Chaplin leaving America for good and returning to his English homeland is not without its reasons. Charlie plays a villain here, discarding the beloved Little Tramp for more philosophical portrayals (though it could easily be argued The Little Tramp was nothing but philosophical).

Monsieur Henri Verdoux is what is known as a Bluebeard; a man who gets himself involved with relatively wealthy women before killing them and inheriting their fortunes, which he then takes home to his genuine and disabled wife and young son. The police are after him, however, as is the family of a victim who deem it unlikely her disappearance is in character.

"Glass, you silly ass! Glass!"

Monsieur Verdoux, while attempting to get light-hearted about death, doesn’t measure up to its own wishes and much falls flat. Chaplin’s exploration of the deeper levels of a serial killer is a nice attempt and no doubt may have worked as a drama, but the injection of comedy here isn’t up to his usual loveable antics as the Tramp in the silent films of years before.

That being said, however, I can see why Chaplin wouldn’t wish to keep making the same films over and over (although I doubt anyone could say any of his films are like each other). Made during World War II, the film is also running on a tight production schedule here; much tighter than any previously made by Chaplin with a total production length of three months. When compared to a film like The Circus which (admittedly, not intentionally) took two years to produce, the holes in the usual Chaplin armour begin to show. No two hundred takes to get a shot perfect here.

To this end, the film seems somehow disjointed from the usual Chaplin emotional attachment, although Chaplin is quoted as saying this is among his most brilliant films. The character of Henri Verdoux is based in reality upon a similar serial killer in France, though much of the similarity ends there. Chaplin has mixed in a hearty helping of the philosophical amidst the Verdoux character’s ethical misnomers which seem to come from someone else’s mouth even as he speaks them. It’s no wonder the Americans then tore him to pieces when his dependable character of the Tramp was so far removed from the menacing Monsieur Verdoux. And during wartime too, when anti-Communist paranoia raced unchecked through every street.

However, there are no doubt many who will find much to enjoy here, and for the fans of Chaplin’s slapstick there are some recognisable moments of the Tramp attempting to escape the confines of the Frenchman. However, for the most part the premise is just too unlike his former work for us to get excited about. While there are some perfectly truthful messages about death and war here, they are veiled by Verdoux’s self-absorption, even as he claims to be making this money for his wife and family. How can one couple’s life justify any wasting of so much more? Chaplin insists this comparison be drawn to the world leaders of the day and the war machine raging around them, but by the time we get here, we don’t like Verdoux enough to suck the marrow of truth from his words. Also, they sound more than just a little clichéd and trite, regardless of their age. Yes, they may have been unheard of then, but they fell upon deaf ears and today we have not heard anything but these ideals from various points for the last 50 odd years.

The sorriest part is that genuine truth or not, the message seems to have made not an ounce of impression upon the world leaders then or since anyway.


As with others in this finely restored collection, the picture quality is superb for a film of this one’s age. Delivered in 4:3 and black and white, the picture is still fairly crisp and well balanced contrast-wise. We get some flaring and strobing of various checked fabrics in Verdoux’ arsenal of fine garments but this is fairly minor. Otherwise I think it safe to say this looks better than it ever has.


Again a stripped and remixed mono track has been brought into the surrounds of Dolby Digital 5.1. This works for music only really and is, like its brothers, fairly worthless as an inclusion. However, all the dialogue is clear and well spoken, if not as funny as intended. Music has been scored yet again by a Mr. Charles Chaplin, who mixes all manner of traditional dramatic moods to infect the current emotion of a given scene. Sound effects and such are fine too, having no synching issues I could detect and overall a fairly average audio package that could safely have been left in Dolby mono with no loss of film appreciation.


The first thing I noticed different about this offering is it is the first I’ve reviewed (of six previous available as links on the right there) to have but one disc only included! I guess there aren’t so many surviving promo pieces about this comparable dog.

The introduction by Chaplin’s biographer David Robinson I finally listened to before the film and there was a spoiler within the first minute, so may I suggest if you haven’t seen this film, please wait until afterward.

Chaplin Today is yet another excellent addition by way of a documentary about the context of the film and wartime America. This runs for 26:58 and features many informative facts about the lynching of Chaplin after the lukewarm reception of the film’s release.

Plan Drawings for the Set is an excellent gallery of architectural sketches and locales from the film to put them into context. This, like most all other Chaplin Collection galleries, works like a short film for 6:00.

The true photo gallery comes next and features many behind the scenes shots and stills and runs the same way for 5:08.

This is interesting; the film posters gallery contains the usual assortment of art posters from around the world, but also has continually running radio spots over the top. The sound is appalling on these with static and crap constant, but worth a listen for the archaic advertising methods of films of the day. They sound a bit like the current sort of advertising we hear from today’s mainstream commercial radio stations. Embarrassing and vapid, but owning a charm those ads of today certainly do not.

Two trailers are next and they run back-to-back for 4:51. The first is English and the second is German (and much more amusing).

Finally the ten or 12 odd teasers for The Chaplin Collection of DVD releases, so this is a relatively small and fairly bland assortment considering the other two-disc sets in the series.


For those filling out their collection of Chaplin movies or those interested in a groundbreaking (if not entirely successful) approach, this may be your meat. For anyone else I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this film. I enjoyed some parts of it, but they didn’t add up to a whole enjoyment and so I have trouble referring anyone to this one after Chaplin’s excellent stable of previous films.

A good try, but wholly confused and more than a little narcissistic and just not enough to maintain Chaplin’s usual standard of brilliance. Some might say before its time, while others may say it was entirely too late. Personally, I couldn’t see a time in which this film would ever fit and that – while working a lot of the time for filmmakers – doesn’t work here.

Sorry Charlie, I love your work, but not this much.

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      And I quote...
    "We all have our off days… and films."
    - Jules Faber
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