Among his would-be victims is Marilyn Nash, a beautiful young brunette. He plans to test a poison on her, but he changes his mind at the last moment. One of his new wives, the obnoxious Annabella (Martha Raye), is extraordinarily lucky, so much so that his plans to murder her inevitably fail.
Verdoux leaves her, and his legal wife, for weeks at a time to pursue new victims. They include Marie Grosnay (Isobel Elsom), a wealthy widow.
Unluckily for Verdoux, at his wedding ceremony with Grosnay, Annabella is an attendee. When Verdoux spots her, he has to flee. Grosnay's extended family is suspicious of Verdoux, and through their efforts to find him, he is arrested and ultimately convicted for his murders.
How others will see it. Monsieur Verdoux was the first new Chaplin movie in seven years, since The Great Dictator (1940). As was common with his films, not only did he play the lead, he also served as director, writer (with Orson Welles), composer, and producer, through his own production company.
Unlike his past movies, though, Monsieur Verdoux was a financial failure, particularly in the United States, where Chaplin had been unfairly caught up in political controversies. Worldwide, there was a smattering of festival nods and awards, proof that the film did find critical acceptance in its own time.
But it is safe to say that most 1947 Americans did not see the humor in a smirking serial killer. The film did better in Europe, where droll serial killer comedies (e.g. Kind Hearts and Coronets) find greater acceptance.
Today, though, Monsieur Verdoux is a viewer favorite on both sides of the Atlantic. At imdb.com, it has 18K user votes, a high total for a black and white 1947 film. The user rating is a lofty 7.7 in the U.S., and only marginally higher outside the U.S. (7.8). Men and women, young and old, all seem to appreciate the film to the same degree.
Since the film has not changed over the past 75 years, what has changed is American culture. This is at least partly due to another Englishman, Anthony Hopkins, whose performance as serial killer Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs achieved lasting popularity in the U.S. We can also credit No Country for Old Men (2007).
How I felt about it. What to make of Chaplin's character and performance? For most of his career, Chaplin had played versions of his Little Tramp character. To some degree, the character is even in The Great Dictator, as the Jewish barber. But there is no trace of the Little Tramp in Monsieur Verdoux. It is obvious that Chaplin has a message for us in Monsieur Verdoux. It is less obvious exactly what that message is. We presume it is not that it is okay to seduce, murder, and steal from a series of vulnerable women, even if you have a wife and young son to support.
The message is more like, the crimes of Verdoux are nothing compared to the crimes of warmongers, munitions makers, soldiers, etc. Indeed, Harry Truman is well regarded (when remembered) by Americans today, even though his orders were responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in 1945.
so, Chaplin has a point. And one presumes he is not advocating the murder of anyone, for any reason. Nonetheless, his character is creepy, even disturbing. What is most disturbing, at least for me, is that he goes to his death with complete calm and self acceptance, and the audience is supposed to admire him for that.