"Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference."
May 7, 2009
Monsieur Verdoux is probably one of Charlie Chaplin's best films. A black comedy about a man who marries and murders rich old spinsters to support his wife and child through hard times, it is the kind of deadly farce that you would expect from Hitchcock. Chaplin actually purchased the story from Orson Welles for $5000 so he could rewrite and direct it himself. Some viewers might actually have trouble excepting the loveable tramp as the comical yet cold blooded killer, especially with scenes like the one in which Chaplin's Verdoux attempts to test a new poison on a young homeless woman.
Chaplin, being a remarkably original filmmaker, not only managed to take a film with such a dark topic and turn it into a comedy, but he also used the main character's moral ambiguity to attack against the sins of the establishment. In the film's climactic court trial, Chaplin's Verdoux delivers a remarkable speech that rationalizes his murder spree by comparing his body count to those of the governments and nations of the worlds. This indictment of political systems and the social structures (that didn't exclude the U.S.) was enough to earn the film an initial rejection by the Hays Code.
Chaplin managed to keep the message of the film intact, and was also successful in keeping it from overshadowing the humor of this "Comedy of Murders" (the film's original title). More importantly, however, is that Chaplin manages to make a ruthless serial killer not only likable, but almost entirely sympathetic.
Monsieur Verdoux was a box office flop at the time, but is still one Chaplin's most impressive films.