This blistering little black comedy was well ahead of its time when released in 1947. Originally, Orson Welles had wanted Chaplin to star in his drama about a French mass murderer named Landru, but Chaplin was hesitant to act for another director, and used the idea himself. He plays a dapper gent named Henri Verdoux (who assumes a number of identities), a civilized monster who marries wealthy women, then murders them (as we meet him, he's gathering roses as an incinerator ominously bellows smoke in the background) and collects their money to support his real family. The Little Tramp is now a distant memory, though this was the first film not to feature Chaplin's beloved creation. Verdoux
is largely viciously clever until it gets too heavy-handed, as evidenced when a woman he spares returns years later as the mistress of a munitions manufacturer. Ultimately, Chaplin breaks character (much as he did in The Great Dictator
) to preach to the masses, declaring that against the machines of war that grip the planet, humble killer Verdoux is "an amateur by comparison." --David Kronke
On one level, "Monsieur Verdoux" is the story of a fired French bank clerk who goes into business for himself marrying and murdering women for their money. On another level, the film is an indictment of war, in which, according to Verdoux, mass murder is legalized, celebrated and paraded. "Killing is the enterprise by which your system prospers," Verdoux says. "As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison." This evaluation was particularly apt in the case of the wife, played by the irrepressible Martha Raye. As Annabella, Raye is one spouse who simply refuses to be murdered, comically evading the deadly traps that Verdoux sets for her. A complete change of pace for Chaplin, "Monsieur Verdoux" was a critical and box office failure upon its release in 1947 as the public was not ready for a cynical antihero from the man who brought the world The Little Tramp. However, its re-release in 1964 set box office records as a new audience attuned to the pleasures of black comedy by "Dr. Strangelove" gave the film the reception it richly deserved.