Conceived and shot in the space of a few weeks due to the Solidarity crisis of December 1981, Jerzy Skolimowski‘s black comedy is much more than a political tract: it’s a profound, gripping comedy of terror and isolation, oppression and entrapment. Jeremy Irons, in a performance worthy of Chaplin, is the head of a Polish construction crew doing illegal work on a flat in London; when the military coup occurs back home, Irons—the only member of the group who speaks English—must keep it a secret from his men. Though the film is founded on a metaphor, it is never forced or abstract: Skolimowski’s direction is a concrete creative response to these actors in this setting at this time, making full expressive use of the details, gestures, and situations at hand. It is, in short, a film—unimaginable as theater or literature—and very possibly a great one.
A film of serene elegance and sharp teeth, Charles Chaplin‘s 1947 masterpiece was met with violent hostility on its first release, and contributed strongly to his political exile in the 1950s. Chaplin steps out of the tramp character, playing a soft-spoken French gentleman who supports his lovely children and crippled wife by marrying rich widows and killing them. The moral–if war is the logical extension of diplomacy, then murder is the logical extension of business–has a Brechtian toughness and wit, but the style is soft, seductive, elegiac. Chaplin clearly loves the monster he has made, and when the tramp’s walk returns for a moment as Verdoux is led to the gallows, we see death with a smiling, human face. With Martha Raye and Isobel Elsom. 124 min.