As a fresh 35mm print of Charlie Chaplin's quintessential 1947 thriller Monsieur Verdoux begins circulating through revival houses around the country, it seems like a good time to remind people that while the late actor is mainly known as a star of the silent screen, he definitely didn't die with it. Although the greatest slapstick artist of all time initially rejected the development of sound film, mocking it with hilariously exaggerated voices in City Lights, he eventually adopted it after realizing that resistance was futile. However, he refused to simply throw in a few lines of dialogue to accompany his beloved tramp shtick, choosing instead to take his career in a fresh direction. While Chaplin made many sound films over the course of several decades, only two of them really qualify as classic talkies (except for Limelight, which deserves a category of its own). Late flops like A King of New York don't really hold together, but Chaplin's initial forays into the world of sound film display his talent as a composer of distinctive prose.
His first work of this era, The Great Dictator, remains a masterpiece that broadened the potential of his tramp character with a modified Prince and the Pauper tale applied to World War II, and Chaplin doing double duty playing both a Jewish barber and an exaggerated Adolf Hitler (or "Hinkel," rather). Monsieur Verdoux, in which he plays a frustrated man whose losses during the Great Depression lead to a twisted scheme where he marries, murders and robs rich women, represented something else altogether: Chaplin's only brooding melodrama, the occasional laughs are almost incidental.