Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Alternate Best Actor 1947: Charlie Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux

Charlie Chaplin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character of Monsieur Verdoux.

Monsieur Verdoux is a film about a man who marries than murders rich old women to support his own family.

In a strange way many histories of Chaplin it always seems that his filmography ends with his first sound film The Great Dictator. Chaplin though did make a few more films after that film including this one. This is a particular film for Chaplin where his character has absolutely no connection with his character of the Tramp, the barber in Dictator held many similarities to the tramp. Something else important is that there is not a great deal of slapstick humor which permeated through all of his older silent films, and even most of the Great Dictator there is not a great deal of it found here in this film though.

There quite a bit of it at the very beginning of the film when Chaplin's Verdoux first appears in the film. Chaplin almost seems to ease the viewers in to his role here by giving us some of the good old Chaplin here, which is certainly enjoyable as he does his usual physical work well as his excellent comedic reactions. Now as with his other two performances that I have reviewed I must say a great deal of what makes this work is Chaplin's direction of these scenes. Nevertheless this sort of comedy is reduced to a minimal form for a Chaplin film, and we are brought into the world of this very different character for Chaplin.

It is easy to see why Chaplin carefully brings us into this new character for him as Monsieur Verdoux is not just someone a little different from his lovable Tramp character but instead a unrepentant murderer. Although of course Chaplin's character can easily be described as a villain he is indeed the protagonist of the film, and the only character we ever really get to know. Every other character are pretty much just straw people impossible to really sympathize with, therefore making it rather difficult for us to truly hate Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. This is of course very clever writing and direction on Chaplin's part, but his performance as well does greatly contribute to this.

Chaplin does not portray his character as evil or as good. He is a murderer, but at the same time he is always caring about his family, Chaplin though never makes him to be a villain or a hero of the film. He instead wants to make a very particular creation that never apologizes for his crimes in any way, but nor does he particularly make his character ever obviously taking pleasure in it. Instead Chaplin portrays Verdoux in an entirely satirical fashion, portraying his serial killer as nothing more than a business man. I have referred to men carrying out crimes in this fashion before, it is not even in the cold calculated sense of the word, but  rather just as a pretty standard day to day casual business man.

It is in this approach where the satire comes from as when he is going to make a killing in the market Monsieur Verdoux literally makes his killing from killing. Chaplin is actually quite excellent in finding the right tone for his character. He actually does take his character seriously, but does not mind putting in bits of physical humor whenever he wishes as well. Chaplin handles it all in a very low key fashion, never overdoing the comedy but always making it a part of his character. It is a bizarre but very effective dynamic he creates within the strangeness of Monsieur Verdoux.

Chaplin is almost oddly compelling here as he shows Verdoux go about his business. Whether it is murdering one of his wives casually, or even just keeping another one in line he does it with the same peculiar style that brings to life this character. Chaplin makes what is a horrible murderer completely watchable with his unique portrayal that could only ever be brought about by Charlie Chaplin. He is particularly excellent late in the film as all of Verdoux's efforts have become pointless as he loses all his money to the depression and both his wife and child die. The degree of humor is completely lost, and there is only cynicism left toward the world. In the end is when Chaplin does become quite chilling in how pure and unforgiving he makes Verdoux's belief in the whole world leaving a very striking impression at the end. This is not the widest performance in turns of sides of the whole of this man, but more of finding an incredible note of fatalism that is very memorable especially coming from the tramp himself.


dshultz said...

I give him a 5. One of the best playing against type roles, up there with Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West.

joe burns said...

He might be your pick over Mitchum, I myself have never seen him one of his films!!!

Michael Patison said...

Same here, Joe. Of the 5 that I recommended for consideration as well as Grant, I had only ever seen Mitchum and Out of the Past and I had just heard really good things about all of the others, especially Harrison, Chaplin, and Attenborough. I also still need to see all of the Chaplin movies.