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MONSIEUR VERDOUX: Charles Chaplin Subversive Sentimental Comedy

Monsieur Verdoux Charles Chaplin Martha RayeMonsieur Verdoux: Charles Chaplin movie stolen by Martha Raye

In The New York Times, J. Hoberman discusses Charles Chaplin's 1947 (oxymoronically) sentimental black comedy Monsieur Verdoux – my favorite Chaplin movie, partly because of its subversiveness, but mostly because of Martha Raye's presence. (Curiously, Hoberman completely ignores Raye in his article.) (Image: Charles Chaplin, Martha Raye in Monsieur Verdoux.)

“One spell was broken and another cast: the world's most beloved clown became his adopted land's most reviled figure,” writes Hoberman. “As the cold war coalesced in 1947, Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp mutated into the monstrous Monsieur Verdoux, a professional bigamist and serial killer supporting his family by marrying and dispatching a succession of wealthy widows.

Monsieur Verdoux, opening Friday for a weeklong run at New York City's Film Forum, is subtitled 'A Comedy of Murders,' and, as the French critic André Bazin observed, it turns the Chaplin universe upside down. The erstwhile tramp is here an honest bank clerk driven to homicide by the 1929 stock market crash. Condemned to death at the movie's end, he declares his crimes paltry compared with those of Western civilization: 'As a mass killer, I'm an amateur by comparison.'"

Post-Monsieur Verdoux Charles Chaplin

Following Monsieur Verdoux, Charles Chaplin would make only one more movie in the United States, Limelight, a 1952 production that would be released in the Los Angeles area two decades later. A King in New York (1957) was a British production, while A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) was an Anglo-American collaboration, with the backing of a major American studio – Universal Pictures – thanks at least in part to the film's two major international stars: Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando.

Overall, Charles Chaplin directed a total of only five talkies. Prior to Monsieur Verdoux there was the 1940 release of The Great Dictator, in which Chaplin played an Adolf Hitler look alike, Jack Oakie was a Benito Mussolini caricature, and Paulette Goddard was both Chaplin's romantic interest and a representation of The People.

Charles Chaplin, Martha Raye topline Monsieur Verdoux movie cast

Besides Charles Chaplin and Martha Raye, the Monsieur Verdoux cast features Marilyn Nash, Isobel Elsom, Marjorie Bennett, Mady Correll, Irving Bacon, Virginia Brissac, and William Frawley (later of I Love Lucy fame). If the IMDb is to be believed, Monsieur Verdoux also features several silent film players in bit roles, among them Gertrude Astor, Franklyn Farnum, Barry Norton, Frank Reicher, and Wilbur Mack. Also listed as a Monsieur Verdoux extra on the IMDb is frequent 1910s Chaplin leading lady Edna Purviance, though she reportedly is not in the film.

Also worth noting is that the basic idea for Monsieur Verdoux is credited to Orson Welles, who wanted to make a movie starring Charles Chaplin as serial-killer Henri Désiré Landru a.k.a. Bluebeard.

Charles Chaplin, Martha Raye in Monsieur Verdoux: Charles Chaplin / United Artists.

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1 Comment to MONSIEUR VERDOUX: Charles Chaplin Subversive Sentimental Comedy

  1. Taylor

    I love Martha Raye! Couldn't figure out that whole lawsuite business because of Bette Midler's For The Boys.