From that crash course in Harold Lloyd to plugging another gap with Chaplin. In fact, not just a Chaplin film, a Chaplin collaboration (of sorts) with Orson Welles… I thought the writing credit on Once Upon a Time in the West listing Sergio Leone, Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento was a head-scratcher, but seeing Chaplin and Welles together in the same credit is almost as “WTF?”… I knew Chaplin had bought the idea from Welles after the latter proposed to direct him in it but Chapin refused, but I was intrigued to learn he had, in fact, bought it as early as 1941; just think, this might have been another of Welles’ post-Kane wipeouts. In the end, of course, it was a Chaplin wipeout instead; it had been seven years since his last film, and by then he was no longer adored by the public or by the American right, and 33 years into a brilliant career he suddenly had his first flop. But could a film like this have worked for him by then anyway? “Chaplin changes… can you?” asks the promotional material featured on the DVD, and the answer was evidently “fuck no”… it was a big jump from the Tramp to this debonair serial killer, modelled on the real-life Landru, and that would’ve been head-spinning enough for audiences by itself then without other considerations; but the film’s ultimate conclusion, where Verdoux claims his handful of killings hardly compares with the industrialised slaughter endorsed by society in the form of war, is what really seems to have pissed people off (particularly the Production Code people) more than anything. Personally I think the film’s length dissipates its force somewhat, it could’ve been a far tighter 90 minutes or so, and for a story set in France it’s mightily distracting to hear such broad American accents (not to mention pronunciations of names) keep taking me out of the film and wonder exactly where in America did the cast seem to think it was really taking place. Still, putting these admittedly not small considerations aside, I was pleased to finally catch up with a film I really should’ve seen years ago, not 100% successful but worth the wait.
Monsieur Verdoux (1947)