Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

120 or 122-123 mins | Comedy-drama | March 1947

Director:

Charles Chaplin

Cinematographer:

Rollie Totheroh

Editor:

Willard Nico

Production Designer:

John Beckman

Production Company:

Chaplin Studios, Inc.
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HISTORY

The title card on the viewed print reads: Monsieur Verdoux, A Comedy of Murders . Comedy of Murders and The Lady Killer were the film's working title. Monsieur Verdoux was Charles Chaplin's first film since The Great Dictator (1940), and marked the first time that the filmmaker completely abandoned his trademark "Little Tramp" character. In an Apr 1947 article, International Digest noted that the picture was inspired by Henri-Desiré Landru, a real-life French "Bluebeard," who murdered approximately eighteen people between 1914 and 1919, most of whom were women he wed while he was still married to his first, unsuspecting wife, Catherine Remy. Like Verdoux, Landru, an accountant, targeted widows and other lonely women and disposed of some of their bodies in an incinerator that was part of a villa he rented in Gambais. According to modern program notes from the British Film Society, several years before this film's production, Orson Welles suggested that he direct Chaplin in a drama based on Landru's life, and Chaplin later bought the idea for five thousand dollars and a screen credit reading "Based on an idea by Orson Welles."
       The original "Bluebeard" legend, entitled "La Barbe bleue" by Charles Perrault in Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec moralities (Paris, 1697), is about a wealthy man with a hideous blue beard whose seven previous wives have disappeared. When his eighth wife is entrusted with a key that she must promise not to use, she uses the key to open the cellar where she finds the bodies of his past wives. Bluebeard returns home to kill her, but ... More Less

The title card on the viewed print reads: Monsieur Verdoux, A Comedy of Murders . Comedy of Murders and The Lady Killer were the film's working title. Monsieur Verdoux was Charles Chaplin's first film since The Great Dictator (1940), and marked the first time that the filmmaker completely abandoned his trademark "Little Tramp" character. In an Apr 1947 article, International Digest noted that the picture was inspired by Henri-Desiré Landru, a real-life French "Bluebeard," who murdered approximately eighteen people between 1914 and 1919, most of whom were women he wed while he was still married to his first, unsuspecting wife, Catherine Remy. Like Verdoux, Landru, an accountant, targeted widows and other lonely women and disposed of some of their bodies in an incinerator that was part of a villa he rented in Gambais. According to modern program notes from the British Film Society, several years before this film's production, Orson Welles suggested that he direct Chaplin in a drama based on Landru's life, and Chaplin later bought the idea for five thousand dollars and a screen credit reading "Based on an idea by Orson Welles."
       The original "Bluebeard" legend, entitled "La Barbe bleue" by Charles Perrault in Histoires et contes du temps passé, avec moralities (Paris, 1697), is about a wealthy man with a hideous blue beard whose seven previous wives have disappeared. When his eighth wife is entrusted with a key that she must promise not to use, she uses the key to open the cellar where she finds the bodies of his past wives. Bluebeard returns home to kill her, but she is soon saved by her brothers, who slay Bluebeard.
       Monsieur Verdoux includes real footage of events surrounding the Wall Street crash of 1929, Spanish loyalists being bombed by Franco suporters, and Hitler's and Mussolini's preparations for war. Although an Apr 1943 HR news item noted that Constance Collier was hired by Chaplin to do research work for the film, her contribution to the completed project has not been determined. A Dec 1943 HR news item announced that Alice Eyland had been part of the project, but her appearance in the final film is doubtful. Modern sources add Barry Norton, Cyril Delevanti, Charles Wagenheim, Franklin Farnum , Lester Matthews and Wheeler Dryden to the cast.
       When this film opened in 1947, it was sharply criticized by reviewers and various groups. In May 1949, Var announced that Chaplin was pulling the picture from distribution, even though it had only played 2,075 dates during its two-year release. Chaplin gave no reason for the withdrawal, but the Var item noted that the picture "was badly hurt by opposition of Catholic Church groups which picketed theatres that played it and put pressure on managers not to book it." Memphis censors banned the picture. The film's comic treatment of murder and antiwar sentiments validated already existing anti-Communist sentiments against Chaplin. The combined controversy surrounding this film, his earlier paternity suit, his questioning by HUAC, and his 1952 film Limelight (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1951-60 ) resulted in a 1952 order by the attorney general to deny Chaplin re-entry into America when he visited London, after which he settled in Switzerland for the remainder of his life.
       The film resulted in two lawsuits, one by an Austrian promoter, Robert E. Arden, for breach of contract, and one by a bank clerk who shared the name of the murderous bank clerk in the film, Henri Verdoux. Verdoux attempted to have the film's name changed but was unsuccessful. Chaplin was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) for the film. In 1964, after fifteen years of obscurity, the film was re-released to much praise. Allied Artists remade the story in 1960 as Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons . W. Lee Wilder directed and George Sanders starred in the Bristish version. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Apr 1947.
---
Collier's
12 Apr 47
pp. 2-3.
Daily Variety
14 Apr 1947.
---
Daily Variety
27 Jun 1949.
---
Film Daily
15 Apr 47
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Apr 1943.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Dec 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
31 May 46
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Sug 1946
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Aug 46
p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 47
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jun 47
p. 3.
Independent Film Journal
6 Jul 47
p. 35.
Los Angeles Examiner
25 Jun 1949.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
19 Apr 47
p. 3585.
New York Times
4 Jul 46
p. 8.
New York Times
21 May 1947.
---
New York Times
4 Jul 64
p. 8.
Newsweek
26 Jan 1948.
---
Variety
21 Oct 1946.
---
Variety
4 Apr 1947.
---
Variety
16 Apr 47
p. 8.
Variety
14 May 1947.
---
Variety
11 May 1949.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Assoc dir
Assoc dir
Asst dir
WRITERS
Orig story
Based on an idea by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Oper cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Artistic supv
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp
Arr and dir by
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Comedy of Murders
The Lady Killer
Release Date:
March 1947
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 4 July 1946
Production Date:
late May--late August 1946
Copyright Claimant:
Chaplin Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
24 October 1947
Copyright Number:
LP1256
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
120 or 122-123
Length(in feet):
11,132
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12225
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

From his grave, the spirit of Henri Verdoux, who was an honest French bank clerk until the stock market crash of 1930, tells the story of how he began "liquidating" the opposite sex in order to support his wife and son: In Paris, the quarrelsome Couvais family worries about their relative Vilma, who married a man named M. Varnay--one of Henri's aliases--after a two-week courtship, emptied her bank account and has not been heard from in three months. Meanwhile, in a villa in the south of France, Henri, who has burned Vilma's body in his incinerator, receives her money in the mail and immediately telephones his stockbroker about investing it. Calling himself M. Varnay, Henri then introduces himself to Marie Grosnay, a wealthy Parisian widow who is interested in buying the villa. Henri frightens Marie with his abrupt, intense romantic overtures, and she leaves the house in a panic. The Couvaises, meanwhile, go to the police about Vilma and learn that Detective Morrow suspects that a modern-day "Bluebeard" has murdered twelve missing women over the past three years. Later, in Paris, Henri receives word from his stockbroker that he needs fifty thousand francs by the morning, so he visits one of his wives, Lydia Floray. Henri tells the sour-faced Lydia that he has been building bridges in Indochina but was forced to return to France suddenly because of a growing financial crisis. Insisting that the crisis will cause a run on the local banks, Henri convinces Lydia to withdraw all of her savings from the bank, and then kills her. The next day, Henri returns home to his wheelchair-bound first wife Mona, whom ... +


From his grave, the spirit of Henri Verdoux, who was an honest French bank clerk until the stock market crash of 1930, tells the story of how he began "liquidating" the opposite sex in order to support his wife and son: In Paris, the quarrelsome Couvais family worries about their relative Vilma, who married a man named M. Varnay--one of Henri's aliases--after a two-week courtship, emptied her bank account and has not been heard from in three months. Meanwhile, in a villa in the south of France, Henri, who has burned Vilma's body in his incinerator, receives her money in the mail and immediately telephones his stockbroker about investing it. Calling himself M. Varnay, Henri then introduces himself to Marie Grosnay, a wealthy Parisian widow who is interested in buying the villa. Henri frightens Marie with his abrupt, intense romantic overtures, and she leaves the house in a panic. The Couvaises, meanwhile, go to the police about Vilma and learn that Detective Morrow suspects that a modern-day "Bluebeard" has murdered twelve missing women over the past three years. Later, in Paris, Henri receives word from his stockbroker that he needs fifty thousand francs by the morning, so he visits one of his wives, Lydia Floray. Henri tells the sour-faced Lydia that he has been building bridges in Indochina but was forced to return to France suddenly because of a growing financial crisis. Insisting that the crisis will cause a run on the local banks, Henri convinces Lydia to withdraw all of her savings from the bank, and then kills her. The next day, Henri returns home to his wheelchair-bound first wife Mona, whom he loves, and their devoted son Peter. In honor of their tenth wedding anniversary, Henri presents the unsuspecting Mona with the deed to their house and speaks lovingly about their marriage. Claiming to have pressing business, Henri takes a train to Lyon the following day to see wife Annabella, an impressionable loud mouth who has won the lottery, and who believes he is a sea captain named Louis Bonheur. After several unsuccessful attempts to kill Annabella, Henri ransacks her room to find her money and leaves again for Paris. There, Henri arranges for flowers to be sent to Marie twice a week for a two-week period. Later, during a visit with Mona, Henri learns about a lethal potion that causes a painless death and cannot be traced in an autopsy if used on a woman. Back in Paris, Henri, posing as a furniture salesman, offers shelter to a beautiful Belgian refugee who has just been released from prison. Henri plans to test his new poison on her, but when she talks about her love for her invalid veteran husband, who died while she was in jail, he is instead moved to help her and gives her money. Later, Detective Morrow, who has been trailing Henri for weeks, arrests him for bigamy and fourteen murders, but Henri pours him the poisoned wine, killing him as he escorts his prisoner on a train. Escaping unnoticed, Henri next tries to poison Annabella, but his potion is inadvertently switched with a peroxide bottle by the maid. Later, he attempts to drown Annabella in a lake, but once again fails. In Paris, Henri finally convinces Marie to marry him, but when Annabella shows up unexpectedly at the wedding as someone's guest, Henri is forced to flee. As Marie and the Couvais family prepare to have Henri arrested, the stock market crashes, and Henri loses all of the assets for which he murdered. The Depression gives rise to a crisis in Europe and the rise of dictators. Years later, Henri meets the Belgian woman, who has become wealthy through marriage to a munitions manufacturer, and tells her that he has lost all his money, his family, and his will to live. While Henri dines with her at the top of the Eiffel Tower, he is recognized by the Couvaises and turns himself in. Before he is sentenced at his trial, Henri states that the world, which is busy building mass weapons of destruction, encourages mass killing, making Henri an amateur by comparison. Later, as he is about to be executed, Henri tells a reporter, "One murder makes a villain, millions a hero." When a priest asks Henri to make his peace with God, he states that his problem is with man, then is led to the guillotine. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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