April 15, 1947 [Monsieur Verdoux]

Chaplin's mustache turns up in surprise--and everybody else is appalled--well, if by "everybody" we mean the newshounds that dig up gossip and crunch on whatever bones they choose--or howl on the radio about America's clean shirt and the mud such a man could sling on it--and then there's everybody who's holding their breath as the Russians puff out their chests and take a slice, their own bushy mustaches bobbing as they chew--and not just holding breath but shouting, the End of the World hot in their mouths.

So there's Chaplin--egged on, it seems, by Orson Welles's bright idea--finding his metaphor in Monsieur Verdoux, the Bluebeard who kills a few, then calmly waits for the guillotine, meanwhile letting us know he's small potatoes, that to kill one makes you a villain, but to kill millions, a hero. "Numbers sanctify," he informs us--and is it Chaplin's certainty that enrages everyone? Is he a little too smug for his own good? I surprised myself by hoping Verdoux would get away--Chaplain working me like a willing sucker, as cagey as Hitchcock asking me to side with cads and saboteurs, at least for a while.

But Chaplin does something else, something more dangerous--for him: This is not just a thriller, but a sermon--with murder as the lesson, plenty of blood to go around, staining our hands with it. And so everybody moves back, wipes their hands and turns them into fists. Chaplin has killed not just hapless women but the Little Tramp, and while we might forgive him for murdering the former we cannot abide the death of the latter, even if we are his rabid accomplices.


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