Most shocking movie moments: Martha Raye eclipses murderous Charles Chaplin in ‘Monsieur Verdoux’
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.)
“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.
Split personality disorder movie: ‘The Most Shocking Film of 1923!’
The rare silent film The Untameable, a melodrama billed as “The Most Shocking Film of 1923!” will be screened at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 5, 2008, at the Echo Park Film Center (website) in Los Angeles. Then popular movie actress Gladys Walton stars.
Long before Nunnally Johnson’s 1957 drama The Three Faces of Eve earned Joanne Woodward a Best Actress Academy Award, The Untameable tackled the “sensational” (and shocking!) issue of split personality disorder. Directed by Herbert Blaché, perhaps best known today as the husband of pioneering female director Alice Guy Blaché, and adapted by Hugh Hoffman from Gelett Burgess’ novel, The Untameable stars Gladys Walton in the dual role of Joy and her sadistic alter-ego Edna.
Long before Joanne Woodward there was Gladys Walton
According to information found in the press release for The Untameable, “the dual role of Joy/Edna was Gladys Walton’s most challenging up to that time … Edna is a whip-toting brute who dresses in leopard skins and flogs the Oriental maid with whom she lives in a relationship with strong lesbian elements. Miss Walton portrays this bizarre sadist in a manner shocking to even the most brazen flapper of 1923 … The Untameable is an astonishing film, and it is safe to say (at the least) that you have never seen anything else like it!”
Also featured in The Untameable are handsome 1920s leading man Malcolm McGregor, John St. Polis, and Etta Lee.
Collector Tom Barnes will be present at the screening, which will also feature comedy shorts “from the unjustly forgotten Al Christie studios.”
The Echo Park Film Center is located at 1200 N. Alvarado at the corner of Sunset Blvd. Phone: 213-484-8846. E-mail: email@example.com.
Image: Gladys Walton suffers from split personality disorder in The Untameable, a Universal Pictures release.
Olive Thomas and Film Restoration in Holland
The Dutch government has allocated €154 million for the restoration of motion pictures rotting in vaults across The Netherlands. Among the titles to be restored is the 1919 Olive Thomas vehicle The Glorious Lady, which was thought lost for a number of years.
A former Ziegfeld Girl, Thomas died from “accidental poisoning” (some have claimed she committed suicide) at the age of 25 in 1920. She was married to Jack Pickford, Mary Pickford’s brother.
Walter Mirisch book signing
At 6:30 pm on Thursday, June 19, producer Walter Mirisch, 86, will sign copies of his new book of memoirs, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. The book signing will be followed by a screening of two Oscar-winning Mirisch productions: Billy Wilder’s mordant 1960 comedy The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and (gasp!) an excellent Fred MacMurray, and Norman Jewison’s well-intentioned but weak 1967 cop melodrama-cum-social commentary In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier and best actor Oscar winner Rod Steiger.
Mirisch will introduce the double feature.
By the way, among Mirisch’s other productions or co-productions are Bomba, the Jungle Boy (1949, he began modestly), Flight to Mars (1951), The Magnificent Seven (1960), West Side Story (1961), Toys in the Attic (1963), Hawaii (1966), Midway (1976), Same Time, Next Year (1978), and Dracula (1979).
The American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater is located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. Ph: 323.466.3456.
The information below is from the American Cinematheque website:
(I believe that “MGM Repertory” means “United Artists production that is currently part of the MGM library.” )
THE APARTMENT, 1960, MGM Repertory, 125 min. Dir. Billy Wilder. Jack Lemmon ingratiates himself with his corporate colleagues by lending out his apartment for their extra-marital affairs – but his promotion plans backfire when he falls head-over-heels for boss Fred MacMurray’s new gal-pal Shirley MacLaine. Oscar-winner for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay (Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond). “By the time he made THE APARTMENT, Wilder had become a master at a kind of sardonic, satiric comedy that had sadness at its center…the summation of what Wilder had done to date, and the key transition in Lemmon’s career…The valuable element in Wilder is his adult sensibility; his characters can’t take flight with formula plots, because they are weighted down with the trials and responsibilities of working for a living. In many movies, the characters hardly even seem to have jobs, but in THE APARTMENT they have to be reminded that they have anything else.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, 1967, MGM Repertory, 109 min. Director Norman Jewison’s hard-hitting Southern murder mystery garnered five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Rod Steiger), Best Screenplay (Sterling Silliphant) and Best Editing (Hal Ashby). Philadelphia homicide detective Sidney Poitier arrives in a small Southern town to visit his mother but becomes embroiled in a murder investigation when he is picked up by the local constabulary for no other reason than the color of his skin. When his profession is verified, Poitier’s Philadelphia boss offers his services to redneck Sheriff Steiger to help on the investigation. Incredulous, wary and unapologetically racist, Steiger reluctantly accepts and eventually learns to respect his northern colleague. The outstanding cast includes Lee Grant (SHAMPOO), Warren Oates, Beah Richards, Scott Wilson (IN COLD BLOOD) and Larry Gates. “A film that has the look and sound of actuality and the pounding pulse of truth.” – Bosley Crowther, The New York Times.
Also, at 8 pm on Thursday, June 12, Mirisch will discuss I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History at the Skirball Cultural Center, which is located at 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in the Santa Monica Mountains. Ph: 310.440.4500. Admission: $5, Free to Skirball members.
Clint Eastwood ‘The Guardian’ interview
Clint Eastwood, promoting the DVD release of Dirty Harry (a “fascist” slice of filmmaking, as per Pauline Kael), talks to Jeff Dawson in The [London] Guardian:
“[Spike] Lee [who complained about the absence of black soldiers in Flags of Our Fathers] shouldn’t be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood’s next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city’s make-up was changed by the large black influx. ‘What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin’ story about that?’ he growls. ‘Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I’m not in that game. I’m playing it the way I read it historically, and that’s the way it is. When I do a picture and it’s 90 percent black, like Bird, I use 90 percent black people.’
“There are actually echoes of Dirty Harry in Changeling, Eastwood says, and he’s not making any concessions to liberals: ‘I get a kick out of it because the judge convicts the killer to two years in solitary confinement, and then to be hanged. In 1928 they said: “You can spend two years thinking about it and then we’re going to kill you.” Nowadays they’re sitting there worrying about how putting a needle in is a cruel and unusual punishment, the same needle you would have if you had a blood test.'”
There are other curious tidbits in Dawson’s piece. For instance, I had no idea that Sergio Leone once said he liked Eastwood “because he had only two expressions: ‘one with the hat, one without it.’” (Dawson says Eastwood has only one expression nowadays.) Or that there had been “a scurrilous – and erroneous – piece of showbiz gossip” claiming that Eastwood was “Stan Laurel’s love child.” Laurel should have sued.
By the way, considering that the U.S. Constitution says something or other against the application of “cruel and unusual punishment” some people were concerned that “the same needle you would have if you had a blood test” – but filled with a poison that would give death-row inmates a slow and excruciatingly painful heart attack – might be an unconstitutional way of handling criminals.