DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
A WOMAN OF PARIS (director/writer: Charles Chaplin; cinematographers: Roland Totheroh/Jack Wilson; editors: Monta Bell/Charles Chaplin; music: Charles Chaplin/Louis F. Gottschalk (1976); cast: Edna Purviance (Marie St. Clair), Clarence Geldart (Marie's Father), Carl Miller (Jean Millet), Lydia Knott (Jean's Mother), Charles K. French (Jean's Father), Adolphe Menjou (Pierre Revel), Betty Morrissey (Fifi), Malvina Polo (Paulette); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Chaplin; United Artists; 1923-silent)

 
"The soap opera love triangle story takes the form of a morality play and is well-constructed but hardly substantial."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Charles Chaplin's ("The Rink"/"Modern Times"/"The Great Dictator") first independent production for United Artists (a production company started by Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford so they can make films without the meddlesome interference of the studio) begins with this opening preamble: "To The Public -- In order to avoid any misunderstanding, I wish to announce that I do not appear in this picture. It is the first serious drama written and directed by myself. Charles Chaplin." The public didn't care for it and it turned out a box office flop, though critics found much in it to be highly praised as a groundbreaking sophisticated drama. It was also meant to serve as a springboard plum dramatic part for Chaplin's one time lover and longtime leading lady in some 20 comedies, Edna Purviance. But that also didn't go as planned, and Edna's career never took off and died soon afterwards. The soap opera love triangle story takes the form of a morality play and is well-constructed but hardly substantial. Chaplin has a cameo as a railroad porter.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

In the French countryside, the poor farmer's daughter Marie St. Clair (Edna Purviance) and her art student boyfriend Jean Millet (Carl Miller) plan to elope to Paris when her mean father locks her out of the house and his mean father objects to Marie's presence in their home. The couple decide to wait no longer to elope in Paris. That same night while Marie waits at the railway station as Jean returns home to pack his belongings, his dad becomes so upset with his decision that he drops dead from a heart attack. Through a misunderstanding on the phone, Marie thinks she's been jilted and goes on alone. A year passes and they have no contact. In the meantime Marie becomes the well-kept mistress of the richest bachelor playboy in Paris, the confident and smug Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou). When Pierre upsets her by his name appearing in the newspaper linked in an expected marriage to a wealthy socialite, she attends a party alone without him and when she rings the wrong apartment she discovers Jean living there with his widowed mom. Jean has come to Paris to study art, and the struggling artist takes on the commission of drawing Marie's portrait. Marie accepts his marriage proposal, but his mother objects that he's picking a loose woman. Jean then tells Marie he proposed in a weak moment, and she brushes him off as a clown. Now in despair, Jean packs a heater and follows Marie and Pierre to a fancy restaurant. Unable to talk to her alone, he turns the gun on himself and commits suicide. It ends with Marie and Jean's mother back in the country to care for orphaned children. The last scene was shot in two versions, one for an American audience and the other for a European. The American version was heavy-handed and contrived. It has Marie riding in the back of a haycart with her children and Pierre in his chauffeur driven limo passing her, but they both do not see each other as they are symbolically and literally heading in different directions. In the European version, Marie returns to Pierre after her fiancé's suicide.

Miller is hardly sympathetic as the serious romantic, mother-dominated, and ill-fated artist; while the womanizer Menjou is actually seen in a better light, as he shines as the likable sophisticated rake. Viewing it today, it's watchable but more as a curio to see a Chaplin film with him not in it and with no comedy. The three stars all give admirable and understated performances, but not great ones. 

REVIEWED ON 8/4/2008        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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