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Originally published July 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 11, 2008 at 9:53 AM


Movie review

Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux" at Northwest Film Forum

Movie review: Charles Chaplin's comedy "Monsieur Verdoux," presented with a new 35-millimeter print, stars Chaplin as a Parisian dandy who marries wealthy doyennes and kills them for insurance money. Savagely delightful, the 1947 comedy is now hailed as an overlooked classic.

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Monsieur Verdoux," with Charles Chaplin, Martha Raye, Mady Correll. Written and directed by Chaplin. 123 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Northwest Film Forum.

A sobering thought occurred to me while rewatching Charles Chaplin's once-controversial comedy "Monsieur Verdoux": "Juno" and Judd Apatow's crudely terrific movies notwithstanding, I hadn't seen a comedy this good, this trenchantly inftelligent, this unabashedly entertaining in ... well, in a long, long time.

Eventually embraced as a classic, the 1947 comedy that virtually ended Chaplin's American film career is proving itself yet again, thanks to the circulation of a new 35-millimeter print playing this week at Northwest Film Forum. This deliciously dark comedy — about a Parisian dandy (Chaplin) who marries wealthy doyennes and murders them for insurance money — is arguably funnier today than it was 60 years ago, when it was a critical and commercial disaster.

Chaplin's silent-comedy chops are on glorious display (as when Verdoux counts stacks of money with nimble-fingered velocity), but this is the high-pitched talking Charlie whom many once-loving fans couldn't warm up to, so they missed the qualities that still work like magic: The brisk, literate dialogue (written by Chaplin from an idea by Orson Welles), flawless execution of sophisticated sight gags and, most pointedly, the lacerating social criticism (hardly subtle, yet eternally relevant) that observes how a laid-off bank clerk like Verdoux is readily punished while the institutionalized murder of war is perpetually justified. ("As a mass killer," says Verdoux, "I am an amateur by comparison.")

Perfection? Arguably not; "Verdoux" has clunky moments and some flat casting, but with an able assist from the great comedian Martha Raye, Chaplin's latter-day greatness is readily apparent.

Jeff Shannon, Special to The Seattle Times

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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