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Monsieur Verdoux Synopsis

Synopsis of Monsieur Verdoux by Charles Chaplin in My Autobiography, published 1964

Verdoux is a bluebeard, an insignificant bank clerk, who, having lost his job during the Depression, evolves a scheme of marrying old spinsters and murdering them for their money. His legitimate wife is an invalid who lives in the country with her little son, but she is ignorant of her husband’s criminal enterprise. After the murder of a victim, he goes home as would a bourgeois husband after a hard day’s work. He is a paradox of virtue and vice: a man who, as he trims his rose bushes, avoids stepping on a caterpillar, while at the end of the garden one of his victims is being consumed in an incinerator. The story contains diabolical humour, bitter satire and social criticism.

Synopsis by David Robinson

Verdoux’s profession is of murdering rich widows and investing their fortunes. The front for his operations is an apparently inoperative furniture business. When he is not otherwise occupied by his demanding business, Verdoux returns to his country cottage, cherished child and invalid wife. He meets a beautiful young woman, down on her luck and working as a prostitute, whom he takes home, intending to use her as a guinea pig for a new poison, but instead persuades her that life is after all worth living. When he meets her again years later, their roles in life have changed: she has become the mistress of an armaments manufacturer, whose business is flourishing on the eve of a new world war; Verdoux’s careful investments have been wiped out since the Stock Market crash. At this point Verdoux’s past catches up on him and he is arrested and put on trial. At his trial and execution he shows mild surprise rather than remorse, since his mode of life has only carried to logical extremes the philosophies on which contemporary capitalist society is built. “As for being a mass murderer, does not the world encourage it? Is it not building weapons of destruction for the sole purpose of mass killing?(..) As a mass killer, I am an amateur by comparison”.

Extracts from Tass NY press release 1947:

Chaplin, who wrote the story, scenario, and musical score, besides directing the film, called it a “comedy of murders”. In Monsieur Verdoux Chaplin is no longer the familiar tragi-comic “little tramp”, but a French petit-bourgeois - a bank clerk, who after thirty years of service is dismissed during the depression of the early 30s and decides to go into “business” to support his crippled wife and little son. The “business’ he chooses is the murder of rich, foolish women whom he marries and then kills for their money, which he promptly deposits with a broker for speculation on the bourse. Martha Raye provides an excellent foil for Chaplin’s antics, playing the role of one wife Verdoux does not succeed in murdering through a series of comic errors.

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