(Sir) Charles (Spencer) Chaplin Jean Renoir - Essay

Jean Renoir

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It is agreed, some will say, that [in Monsieur Verdoux] Chaplin has created a highly personal work, and we admit that he has undergone a natural artistic transformation. We only feel that he has done all this in a wrong direction. And they add that the greatest crime of Monsieur Verdoux was the killing-off of the beloved little vagabond who had been such a charmer. His creator should not only have kept him alive but depended on him in his search for a new form of expression. I cannot share this opinion.

In giving up the rundown shoes, the old derby hat and willowy cane of the raggedy little guy whose pathetic hangdog look used to melt our hearts, Chaplin has gone deliberately into a world that is more dangerous, because it is closer to the one we live in. His new character, with neatly-pressed trousers, impeccably-knotted tie, well-dressed and no longer able to appeal to our pity, does not belong in those good old situations, outlined in strong broad strokes, where the rich trample the poor in so obvious a manner that even the most childish audience can immediately grasp the moral of the story. Before, we could imagine that the adventures of the little tramp took place in some world that belonged exclusively to the movies, that they were a sort of fairy tale.

With Monsieur Verdoux, such misapprehension is no longer possible. This one really takes place in our time, and the problems faced on the screen are really our own. By thus giving up a formula which afforded him full security, and undertaking squarely the critique of the society in which he himself lives, a dangerous job if ever there was one, the author raises our craft to the level of the great classical expressions of the human mind, and strengthens our hope of being able to look upon it more and more as an art. (pp. 2-3)

Jean Renoir, "Chaplin among the Immortals," translated by Harold Salemson, in The Screen Writer (copyright 1947 by The Screen Writers' Guild, Inc.), Vol. 3, No. 2, July, 1947, pp. 1-4.