Charlie Chaplin was a beloved film actor for many years, though by the time he made Monsieur Verdoux, not so much.
He portrayed a character eventually known as “the Tramp” as early as 1914. Chaplin designed him as a “contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large… I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.” The persona became a worldwide marketing phenomenon.
He fought for, and won, more control of his films, wanting to spend more time on his creations. He joined forces with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D. W. Griffith to form a distribution company, United Artists, established in January 1919.
He spent much of the 1920s and 1930s making his classic silent features such as The Gold Rush, City Lights, and Modern Times, eschewing the talkies. He also was personally becoming more political in both in Modern Times and 1940’s The Great Dictator, for which he used spoken dialogue.
His personal life, often messy, became more so with the FBI indicting him for allegedly violating the notorious Mann Act, which “prohibits the transportation of women across state boundaries for sexual purposes” with a young woman named Joan Barry. Though acquitted, Chaplin had to pay her child support.
“The controversy surrounding Chaplin [age 54] increased when, two weeks after the Barry paternity suit was filed, it was announced that he had married his newest protégée, 18-year-old Oona O’Neill – daughter of the American playwright Eugene O’Neill,” his fourth wife. “The couple remained married until Chaplin’s death [on Christmas Day 1977], and had eight children over 18 years.”
“In April 1946, he finally began filming a project that had been in development since 1942. Monsieur Verdoux was a black comedy, the story of a French bank clerk, Verdoux (Chaplin), who loses his job and begins marrying and murdering wealthy widows to support his family. Chaplin’s inspiration for the project came from Orson Welles, who wanted him to star in a film about the French serial killer Henri Désiré Landru. Chaplin decided that the concept would ‘make a wonderful comedy’, and paid Welles $5,000 for the idea.
“Chaplin again vocalised his political views in Monsieur Verdoux, criticising capitalism and arguing that the world encourages mass killing through wars and weapons of mass destruction. Because of this, the film met with controversy when it was released in April 1947; Chaplin was booed at the premiere, and there were calls for a boycott.
Monsieur Verdoux was not popular in the United States. It was more successful abroad, and Chaplin’s screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. “He wrote in his autobiography that it was the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made.’
“He was publicly accused of being a communist… Chaplin denied [it], instead calling himself a “peacemonger”, but felt the government’s effort to suppress the ideology was an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties.”
In that context, watch some of Monsieur Verdoux, which 30 of 31 critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave positive reviews.
Monsieur Verdoux Ending Scene [SPOLER ALERT!]
MONSIEUR VERDOUX – Charles Chaplin [2 hours]
Also: Charlie Chaplin Documentary – The Forgotten Years (2003)
Today is the 129th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s birth