June 26, 2009

Monsieur Verdoux

Henri Désiré Landru: photo here.

One of the instructors (Jean-Pierre Constant) I work with teaches a course on haute couture and fashion in Paris. The study abroad students eat it up, and for good reason. This instructor is brilliant and his range of knowledge covers not only characters from Catherine de Medici to Yves Saint Laurent, but also more shady characters like a French serial killer named Henri Désiré Landru.

We were in the Jardin de Luxuembourg the other night and Jean-Pierre was painting the tale of this horrific specter in French history. Henri Désiré Landru would, apparently, hunt for his victims in the Jardin de Luxembourg. He would also hunt for victims using personal ads in Paris newspapers. The historical moment was his (his killings were all committed between 1914 and 1918) because, you see, being male in a country where an entire generation of men were being killed gave him an edge. So, in his ads, he tried to appeal to widowed women with assets, to swindle them, kill them, chop them up and then burn them in his oven. He succeeded killing 10 women and 1 boy, a child of one of the women.

How did he manage this? He kept a secret notebook. This was important because he had different names he used with each of the women and his scores of possible victims - he had to keep his stories straight. Ironically, love caught him. He fell in love with a 'butterfly,' as Jean-Pierre put it. She was young and beautiful and sincere and he got sloppy because he was enamored. He probably never intended to kill this love of his, but he was recognized by one of the other girls' family members and that was the end, just when he had found love. A monster and a butterfly. He was guillotined at Versailles in 1921. Then the butterfly found she was a monster for having loved such a man.

Orson Welles was inspired by the story and wanted to make a film based on it staring Charlie Chaplin. Monsieur Chaplin, not liking to be told what to do, bought the story and directed and starred in the film himself. Monsieur Verdoux - the tale of a bluebeard murderer. (Bluebeard is a 'fairytale' in France of a 15th c. serial killer. That it is called a fairytale is obviously disquieting). Thus, the basis for Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux. The scene from the film below is a moment of doubt for the murderer because this sincere and charming woman, with whom he has fallen in love, has perhaps changed his mind about his favorite past time. Her soliloquy about love and why life is beautiful is enough to convince him to whisk away her wine glass before she drinks his poison.


la_sale_bete said...

This is such a wonderful film! I saw it at BYU and it's stuck with me since.

Jill said...

These serial killers always seem to inspire someone to make a movie about them. In high school we were forced to watch the made for T.V. movie about Ted Bundy, who incidentally had found one of his victims in the parking lot of my very own high school. It was a bit disquieting to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Darling, Fernande Segret - the "butterfly" - has never really regretted having enjoyed such a monster. She has even committed suicide because she "suffered too much". Without him ? Power of love !...
Jean-Pierre C.

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