Of the three great silent film comedians, Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton, I always ranked Charles a very, very distant third. His melodrama and tortuously drawn out scenes of awkwardness never quite caused me to laugh in anything but a nervous way. You know the type: he, he, when is this scene going to end, he, he.
So his postwar decision to abandon the style that made him famous for a slightly more dramatic form of film, while unpopular at the time, is a bit of a relief to me as I watch the 1001 films. The Little Tramp is not a character I miss in the least.
Today’s subject, Monsier Verdoux (1947) is about a man who, after getting laid off from his long-held job at a bank, snaps and begins to make money by seducing and killing wealthy widows. A bluebeard, as those men were called in the day. Its based on an actual serial killer.
The film was badly received in the US when launched, and one can easily see why. It’s a bit weird, in the same vein that European films were weird in 1947. The story is compelling, but the execution and is strange and strays from hollywood norms in jarring ways.
It’s nothing too striking, but enough to make one wonder what just happened which, in a way, fits the tone and theme of the movie well enough. There is one truly memorable scene in the film, one in which Chaplin’s character, pursued by the family of one of the women he’s killed buys himself just enough time to escape and say goodbye to a girl who was kind to him before, with every avenue open to escape, turning himself in. It is both poignant and funny – what Chaplin always strove for.
BTW, the above isn’t a spoiler. Anyone familiar with the lamentable Hays Code era will be aware that criminals need to be brought to justice in the end.
It’s not the strongest film on the list, and probably keeps its place only because it was Chaplin’s favorite of his movies. Strangely, The Great Dictator is not included in the list I’m following. Perhaps that’s for the best, as it is likely a very predictable offering. We all know how to spoof a dictator, but the Marx Brothers were better at it.
My own pleasure came when researching this article. The name Fritz Leiber jumped out at me from among the cast members. Turns out that he is the father of the Fritz Leiber who wrote so much amazing Sword and Sorcery from the pulp era to the eighties. A talented family, then.
Anyway, this one has some sordid interest, a strongly pacifist message at the end and pacing that makes it slightly off kilter. If that sounds like fun, give it a go. If not, look for some Buster Keaton.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His most off-kilter story is probably Branch, a novella, available for Kindle.