Archive for March 4, 2023

The Family Business

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2023 by dcairns

Emerging from his victim’s bedroom, Verdoux launches into his money-counting routine, where Chaplin creates the effect of undercranking without any camera trickery at all. Verdoux’s history as a bank teller is brought to life before us, and the point is made that he’s continuing his financial career via alternate avenues.

Multitasking: Verdoux puts a call through to the stock exchange to invest his newly-stolen finances, and prepares breakfast. Oddly, he lights the gas range before turning it on. Either there’s something I don’t understand about 1940s gas cookers or there’s something Chaplin doesn’t understand about them. Information gratefully received.

The Lubitsch touch — we understand that Mme Floray is dead because Verdoux lays two places for breakfast, then notices his mistake, silently chastises himself for forgetfulness, and clears one away. Except we ALREADY understood this, so this is more like a very un-Lubitsch anxiety that everyone should understand. Or maybe it’s just a grim little joke — it’s certainly witty and dark.

Verdoux returns home to his real wife and child, accompanied by an outpouring of sentimental music so that we know he REALLY loves them. The kid, Peter, is played by one Allison Roddan, in their only IMDb-credited screen role. A typical movie sprog of the period, not a Chaplin offspring, the only odd thing being that he (?) is called Allison.

The authentic Mme. Verdoux is in a wheelchair, adding to the sentiment and also pushing us to find his homicidal activities, if not justifiable, at least something he was pressured into. The trouble is he’s so coldly efficient about it. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the Verdoux family something of a bore — they have a useful function in terms of motivation, but they’re not exactly vivid, and no drama or comedy can be attempted in their presence, it seems. Verdoux may be devoted to their wellbeing but Chaplin can dispose of them quite swiftly, offscreen, later on.

Mona Verdoux is played decorously by Quebecois actor Mady Correll. Chaplin cast a few actors with French-sounding names, like Virginia Brissac (mentioned earlier this week for her connection to the Russ Columbo shooting) but I think this is chance. He was also happy to cast the very American Martha Raye, after all.

“I know it,” says Mme. Verdoux, a very Chaplin line: he says it himself while hanging from an aeroplane in THE GREAT DICTATOR. That may be a tiny sign of his limitations as a dialogue writer: his characters all talk like him.

We also learn that the Verdoux family are vegetarians, which is surely HIS idea. His contradictions — kind to animals, murderous to rich widows — are already established, and surely the irony connects Verdoux deliberately to Chaplin’s previous role, as Hitler.

Mme. V. reads the news headlines: DEPRESSION WORLDWIDE, UNEMPLOYMENT SPREADS THROUGH ALL NATIONS. Rather than being an event, the stockmarket crash seems, in this world, to be a continuous crisis — which makes it hard to figure out what time period this is meant to be. War hasn’t been mentioned yet.

“Peter, don’t pull the cat’s tail. You have a cruel streak in you, I don’t know where you get it.”