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Agee

Posted 6/15/2016 9:58am by Eugene Wyatt.

But first Pauline Kael to set the scene:

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)—Chaplin as a Parisian bank clerk—a dapper Bluebeard—in a comedy with attempted Shavian ironies. This private entrepreneur who charms rich widows and murders them for their money feels guiltless, and contrasts what he does with what governments do in war. “Numbers sanctify,” he says. Chaplin is more talented at carrying out his pantomime bits than in the talky, anti-war passages, which are meant to be complexly unsettling and come across as dubious and even rather lamebrained. There are also static sentimental interludes about Verdoux’s devotion to his virtuous wife (Mady Correll). The casting is not all it might be, with the glorious exception of Martha Raye as Annabella, who is so full of low-comedy life that, despite all Verdoux’s calculations, and one attempt after another, he fails to kill her. With Isobel Elsom, Marilyn Nash, William Frawley, Virginia Brissac, Robert Lewis, Fritz Leiber, and a glimpse of Edna Purviance. Produced, written, and directed by Chaplin, with Robert Florey and Wheeler Dryden as his assistant directors. United Artists. b & w.

5001 Nights At The Movies, A guide from A to Z (1982) Pauline Kael, P. 494.

~

The wife and child are shut away in a home which is at once a shrine and a jail; and there, immobilized, and cut off from the truth, they virtually cease to exist as living objects of love; they become an ever more rigid dream. For when the worst and the best in the personality are thus segregated, and the worst is thus utilized in the nominal service of the best, it is inevitably the good which is exploited; the evil, which thinks of itself as faithful slave, is treacherous master; and evil, being active and knowledgeable, grows; and good, rendered motionless and denied knowledge, withers.

P. 252.

Good and evil are inextricable, Verdoux insists. But his fatal mistake was in trying to keep them apart. If the film is regarded as a metaphor for the personality, and through that metaphor, as a metaphor for the personality as the family as business as war as civilization as murder, then this is certain: if the man and wife had honored their marriage with more than their child, the murders would never have been committed, the paralysis would never have imposed itself or would have been dissolved, and the wife and child would never have been shut into that exquisite tabernacle of a closed garden, but all three would have lived as one in that poverty for which the wife was forlorn, in the intactness of soul and the irresponsibility of that anarchic and immortal lily of the field, the tramp, the most humane and most nearly complete among the religious figures our time has evolved; whom for once in his life Chaplin set aside, to give his century its truest portrait of the upright citizen.

Agee On Film: Criticism And Comment On The Movies 1942-1948 James Agee, P. 257.

Because Agee was too close to the war (1947) he didn't say (perhaps because of personal convictions or he was too timid of the censors or of his higher-ups at The Nation, etc.) what the direct-speaking and courageous Chaplin as Monsieur Verdoux said on his way to the guillotine, (and I paraphrase) 'I only killed a few but war, as a business, has killed millions.'

As talky as the film was (Chaplin was first and foremost a silent star) Monsieur Verdoux remains superb.