A Woman of Paris (Charles Chaplin / U.S., 1923):

Chaplinís "drama of fate" is really a drama of coincidence and irony, as befits the crossroads of Victorian and Jazz Age Europe. "Marriage or luxury" is the main dilemma, De Maupassant and Pinero are the models, Stroheim has nothing on its cruelties. The woman (Edna Purviance) is locked out by the stern paterfamilias, her suitor, an earnest painter (Carl Miller), takes her in until his own father objects. They decide to elope together but tragedy strikes, she boards the spectral train by herself (Murnau-like light patterns from the off-screen express flash over her figure). The second act sketches the Gallic Babylon of pashas and flappers, a bored gigolo sips soup with his wrinkled benefactor while the heroine, lushly gowned and plumed, savors truffles boiled in champagne with "the richest bachelor in Paris" (Adolphe Menjou). "Well, such is life." The soignť rapport between courtesan and boulevardier slowly reveals the cracks of alienation: She yearns for "a real home, babies, a manís respect" yet rushes to fetch the necklace thatís been angrily hurled out the window, heís greatly amused by the melodrama of it all. A crucial emotion sinking into Purviance as she has her back turned to the camera, a massage session crisscrossed with unspoken class tension, Menjou at the grand ball letting out a sigh that barely parts his lips -- a clown-tragedianís consciously delicate crystallization of technique and gesture, analyzed six ways from Sunday by Lubitsch, Sternberg and Ozu over the course of their careers. A tale of the autonomous muse who rejects adulation and the pious artist who collapses while chasing idealized beauty, and, for Chaplin and Purviance, as surely a snapshot of a dissolving relationship as The Lady from Shanghai. Rouť and mistress go their different ways at the end, only to cross paths again, with added buckets of acid, in Monsieur Verdoux. With Clarence Geldart, Lydia Knott, Charles K. French, Betty Morrissey, and Malvina Polo. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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