Until 1947’s Monsieur Verdoux¸ Charlie Chaplin had never starred in a movie flop. A Woman in Paris hadn’t been successful, but he merely directed that and appeared only in cameo. But people in post war America were not in the mood for a serious comedy about a wife murderer who also had very distinct ideas about the businesses of war and religion, so despite some hilarious scenes, a unique story about how a man provided for his beloved wife and child through bigamy and murder, and one of Chaplin’s greatest performances, the movie did not catch on. Subsequent years have proven its worth, but it’s still not usually the Chaplin film most folks want to see. The comedy is a bit too black and cynical for most people’s tastes.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English PCM 1.0 (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 4 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 03/26/2013
With his invalid wife (Mady Correll) and son (Allison Roddan) depending him to support them after the beginning of the Great Depression robs him of his job as a bank clerk, Henri Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) happens on the idea of marrying wealthy scolds for their money and killing them off one by one. Over the course of seven years, he kills thirteen women successfully but never quite seems to manage to bump off Annabella Bonheur (Martha Raye) nor does he go through with his intentions of killing the young and beautiful gamin (Marilyn Nash) who later inadvertently places him in the locale of a viperfish family who’s been hunting for him for years and who manage to alert the police to his whereabouts.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Chaplin’s script is laced not just with black comedy but with some farcical elements, too. The entire opening introduction to the crude and crass Couvais family is a hilarious series of verbal putdowns (reminiscent of W.C. Fields’ monster families at their grossest) and slapstick, and Chaplin himself takes several very funny tumbles backwards out of a window and boat in the name of comedy. He’s a superb technician, too, in several extended set pieces where comedic tension is sustained beautifully: when the hopeless young girl hesitates before drinking poisoned wine, when a detective (Charles Evans) confronts the murderer and Verdoux must decide whether to end his life or try to escape, the many attempts to kill Annabella during a rowboat outing, the hilarious avoidance of Annabella during his wedding to the dowager Grosnay (Isobel Elsom). Not only has Chaplin retained his razor-edged timing from his silents, but he moves the camera more in the movie than ever before, the movie said by many to be his first film to abandon all inflections of the silent cinema and his first to fully embrace the sound revolution. The script is talky: in some cases the talk is superbly literate and philosophically relevant as Verdoux rails against his few petty murders when there were entire countries who make murder a big business and where he fesses to a priest that his conscience is clear as far as God is concerned. Elsewhere, though, Chaplin does seem enraptured by the sound of his voice as he chatters away sometimes tediously. As in the later Kind Hearts and Coronets which likewise dealt with multiple homicides in the name of black comedy, we never see the murders, only the aftermaths (and in the case of the coarse, vile Lyrid Floray played by hatchet-faced Margaret Hoffman, the abusive demeanor that makes hers more of a mercy killing).
James Agee’s review of the film proclaimed Chaplin’s performance as the greatest in cinema history (he had also said as much of his work in City Lights), but it’s not quite all that. He’s certainly playing an unusual and effete character not without charm or compassion, and one does root for him throughout especially in moments when he seems doomed to discovery. But even in scenes with his wife and son, there’s a certain coldness and aloofness that prevents our full embrace of his actions and persona. Martha Raye is her usual rambunctious 1940s self as the clueless Annabella, the luckiest of Verdoux’s victims. Isobel Elsom gets some fine moments as an upper crust lady who resists Verdoux’s charms far longer than most, while the inexperienced Marilyn Nash is guided to a decent performance as the ex-con who rises in the ranks while Verdoux’s fortunes subside.
The film’s original theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio is faithfully presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent throughout, so good in fact, that painted backdrops become quite obvious and the use of rear projection somewhat distracting. The opening titles are softer than the rest of the film, and, of course, vintage footage used in places doesn’t mesh well with the soundstage work. The grayscale features crisp whites but blacks which are good but not always great. There’s also a fairly lengthy scratch down the left side of the frame that hasn’t been digitally dealt with. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) audio mix is typical of its era blending the dialogue, sound effects, and musical score (composed by Chaplin) into a single track. Dialogue is certainly discernible throughout, and fidelity is fine even if there is some slight hiss noticeable from time to time and a bit of flutter, too. ADR is also noticeable in certain places.
Audio Quality: 4/5
Chaplin Today (26:57, HD): another in the series of documentaries produced for the mk2 DVD releases of Chaplin’s films. Director Claude Chabrol and actor Norman Lloyd among others describe the turbulent period of Chaplin’s life when the movie was made, and Chabrol celebrates its unique qualities.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
Charlie Chaplin and the American Press (24:54, HD): a 2012 documentary on Chaplin’s treatment, both pro and con, by the press from his first years in 1914 America through his leaving the country in 1952.
Marilyn Nash (8:05, HD): an audio only interview with the actress who tells of her experience of working with Chaplin on the movie and her championing of his treatment of her and others who worked under contract for him.
8 Radio Ads (6:15): presented in a selectable montage.
3 Trailers (8:38, HD): French, German, and American trailers presented in montage form.
37-Page Booklet: contains cast and crew lists, some stills from the movie, critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s adulatory critique of the film, Chaplin’s own publicity-intended essay on his film, and critic André Bazin’s celebratory look back at the movie.
Timeline: a maneuvering tool which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
Not the greatest Chaplin film but certainly one of his more unusual and thought-provoking, Monsieur Verdoux is a welcome addition to the collection of Blu-ray releases on the cinematic genius’s astounding career. Highly recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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