Chaplin, that master comedian, cannot seem to decide here which way to go, either into straight drama or farcical crime, but his black humor is in force nevertheless and he has produced a compelling film about the notorious Landru, better known as "Bluebeard." Instead of WWI--when Landru

was busy wooing and murdering scores of women, mostly rich spinsters bereft of the males who had gone to fight at the front--Chaplin sets his tale during the late 1930s, when France was on the brink of war with Germany. Though happily married, with a young son, Chaplin feels the need to murder

after losing his bank-clerk job. To support his family he romances rich widows and women with savings and is quickly supplied with a countless stream of victims. Raye is exceptional as the one woman who proves his nemesis, and Chaplin is mesmerizing as the droll little methodical killer who

becomes especially eccentric and scary when being tried for mass murder. Chaplin attempts to lift this depressing little film out of the pitch darkness of nightmare with little touches that sometimes fail to amuse. He falls into a lake and is rescued by his intended drowning victim; his little boy

pulls a cat's tail and he wonders where the child learned such cruelty. Little of it is funny, even though the great silent comedian subtitled this effort "A Comedy of Murders." Had Chaplin played the role straight rather than reaching too far for empathy and some bizarre black laughs, it might

have been a minor masterpiece. As it is, MONSIEUR VERDOUX is a curiosity with flashes of brilliance, but definitely not one of Chaplin's best. Later Chaplin stated that he made this film to protest the A-bomb. The film was utterly rejected by audiences worldwide when released, although it has

gained some critical admirers and cult status since.