Monsieur Verdoux

Charlie Chaplin put his Little Tramp to rest for Monsieur Verdoux, the story of Henri Verdoux, an earnest if slightly sociopathic unemployed banker who takes to marrying and then killing off wealthy widows in order to support his family. (It was based on an idea by Orson Welles, who in turn was inspired by French ladies' man and serial killer Henri Desire Landru.) The film took a grim look at capitalism, symbolically equating it to murder. Taking money and taking lives, according to Verdoux, amount to pretty much the same thing.

This was the first Chaplin film to have no Little Tramp (or Tramp-like) character, and American audiences were initially cool in their reception. (So was the media; during one press conference promoting the film, Chaplin reportedly opened the floor to questions from reporters by saying, "Proceed with the butchering.") Of course, since it was just two years after the end of World War II, American moviegoers weren't yet in the mood for anything so dark and political, even if it was billed as a comedy. Chaplin's original screenplay snagged the 1947 film an Oscar nomination for Best Writing, but lost to Sidney Sheldon's The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (why award social commentary when pseudo-pedophilia was available?). The film was better received in Europe and eventually became a revival festival favorite. See Chaplin's comedy of murders today at 7 p.m. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit $6 to $7.
Oct. 3-5, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 12, 7 p.m., 2008

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Olivia Flores Alvarez