When Charles Chaplin Became the Enemy
"Von Clausewitz said that war is the logical extension of diplomacy; Monsieur Verdoux feels that murder is the logical extension of business."
With his controversial "comedy of murders" Monsieur Verdoux, (click title for YouTube video) Charles Chaplin makes his final, definitive break with the Little Tramp character that had brought him fame and fortune. Verdoux (Chaplin), a mild-mannered family man of pre-war France, has hit upon a novel method of supporting his loved ones. He periodically heads out of town, assumes an alias,
He does this thirteen times with success, but wife #14, brassy Martha Raye, proves impossible to kill (nor does she ever suspect what Verdoux has in mind for her). A subplot develops when Verdoux, planning to test a new poison, chooses streetwalker Marilyn Nash as his guinea pig. She tells him so sad a life story that Verdoux takes pity on her, gives her some money, and sends her on her way. Years later, the widowed and impoverished Verdoux meets Nash once more; now she is the mistress of a munitions magnate.
This ironic twist sets the stage for the finale, when Verdoux, finally arrested for his crimes and on trial for his life, gently argues in his own defense that he is an "amateur" by comparison to those profiteers who build weapons for war. "It's all business. One murder makes a villain. Millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify..." Sentenced to death, Verdoux remains calmly philosophical to the end. As the condemned man walks to the guillotine, a priest prays for God to have mercy on Verdoux's soul. "Why not?" replies Verdoux jauntily. "After all, it belongs to him."
When Chaplin Became the Enemy
ONE spell was broken and another cast: the world’s most beloved clown became his adopted land’s most reviled figure. 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.