Charlie Chaplin’s sound work isn’t exactly esoteric; after all, "The Great Dictator" is often listed among the greatest comedies ever made. But most of his post-20s output feels like an extension of his silent cinema - the same aesthetic, with a few words tossed in here and there for good measure. Not "Monsieur Verdoux."
Here, the adorable Little Tramp becomes a cold, relentless murderer - quite literally. Chaplin’s title character is a ’modern Bluebeard;’ a family man/sailor who, after losing his job to the depression, decides to support his child and disabled wife by marrying and then murdering widow after widow in port after port.
Chaplin’s aesthetic lulls you into a sense of security, and his film breaks it with gleeful abandon. His flat angles and compositions leave you feeling like you’re watching a harmless sitcom - and then his character goes off and kills another lonely woman.
Criterion’s restoration leaves the previously battered film looking better than I had ever seen it before; though the extras included here feel a bit short-shifted compared to their other releases. You get two documentaries on Chaplin, a bit under 30 minutes each. You get a number of promotional materials; and as always, a critical essay accompanies the booklet (this time written by the always-interesting critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.)
Odds are you remember Charlie Chaplin as a heartwarming little devil; unlucky in life but lucky in love. With this - a film simultaneously subversive of his personality and of the politics of his day - he turns everything on its head. The Tramp is no more.