Friday, June 20, 2008

Monsieur Verdoux

Ah, Charlie -- excuse me, Charles -- Chaplin, you luckless bastard. Everyone apparently hated you when M. Verdoux first came out, and it took years before the world caught up with your cynicism.

Sorry about that. It's really not a bad little film.

Last night's Film Forum audience was appropriately appreciative, and we laughed out loud, often (possibly for the right reasons). Verdoux mixes slapstick and murder a lot better than, some other films that have attempted same (say Colin Higgins' Foul Play, which completely falls apart after the first thirty minutes, though somewhat redeems itself with Dudley Moore's "Beaver Trap" scene, or Arsenic and Old Lace, which is just too manic for its own good and, I just realized, was also a STAGE PLAY!). Laughs were especially plentiful during the scenes with Martha Raye, who I just realized played the Duchess in my beloved TV adaptation of Alice! There's a great scene where she drinks a whole bottle of wine spiked with hydrogen peroxide and doesn't bat an eyelash -- that's my kind of girl!

There's a nice analysis/appreciation of the film on Cinematical, that I more or less agree with. Chaplin's talkies certainly deserve respect but I don't think he really shines as a director in Verdoux. The story lacks momentum, that's my main gripe. Chaplin doesn't tell a tight story here, and the more leaden sequences detract from the overall effect. It's not all bad news though: moral interludes and asides were kept mercifully brief, for the most part, and the sentimental soliloquizing was confined to the last five minutes or so. So thanks for that, CC.

The film's greatest strength is Chaplin himself, of course. You can't fault his performance, which is by turns creepy, sad, cruel, depressing, and hilarious. Still, as one Cinematical commenter pointed out, imagine if the film had been directed by Orson Welles, the originator of the idea. That might have been the best movie ever. Finally, score an extra point for some great one-liners, including this very quotable line:

"What's the matter with you? You seem to have lost your zest for bitterness."

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