If they wanted a lady-killer, he’d give them a lady-killer. Once again, Chaplin transformed personal adversity into comedy in hopes of winning the world’s affection and approval.Unfortunately for Charlie, Monsieur Verdoux
didn’t work—at least in the United States. While it won Best Film of the Year from the National Board of Review and also earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, Verdoux
was a box office flop. After two years,the film had grossed $325,000 in the United States but more than $1.5 million abroad.
Nothing if not an invulnerable child
who (very much like Oprah Winfrey today) had survived and overcome multiple childhood traumas and gone on to become a world famous and universally admired media star, Chaplin was a pugnacious fighter who had considered himself invincible to adversity.
Faced with the controversy over his film, Charlie never knew what hit him: "Proceed with the butchery . . . fire ahead at this old gray head," were his opening words to the reporters who gathered at the press conference for the opening of Monsieur Verdoux
in New York City. Distinctly disinterested in discussing Verdoux
, they were there to report on his politics. They bombarded him with questions about his patriotism. The Cold War was heating up. His good-natured attempt to deflect humorously their hostility by describing himself as a "peace monger" did not go over.
Afterward, when right-wing political pressure groups demonstrated their ability to induce Americans to boycott his next film (Limelight) as an act of patriotism, Chaplin began to fully appreciate the extent to which he had underestimated his opponents. Looking back on those events twenty years later, the former president of the Screen Actors Guild at the time—Ronald Reagan—unapologetically remarked that Chaplin had gotten what he deserved. Were Chaplin’s opponents justified in trying to silence him, or was Chaplin justified in refusing to be silenced because his political enemies were trying to suppress his freedom of speech? (For an in-depth discussion see Chaplin And American Culture .