A Woman of Paris (1923)

Like so many other young lovers, Marie St. Claire (Edna Purviance) and Jean Millet (Carl Miller) long to run off to the big city together and escape their small town and strict parents.  When they finally decide to make the big trip to Paris, Marie agrees to meet Jean at the train station later that night.  While Marie is waiting for him, he’s at home telling his father that he’s going to marry Marie.  Apparently, the news is too much to bear and his father dies that night.  When he calls to tell Marie that he can’t make the trip that night, he doesn’t mention and she assumes he just doesn’t want to marry her.  Heartbroken, she decides to make the trip to Paris alone.

A year passes and Marie has become quite the party girl.  She lives in a lavish apartment, wears the most stylish dresses, and goes out to the hottest restaurants on the arm of Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou), one of the biggest playboys in town.  One night, a friend calls her up and invites her to a party, but doesn’t give her the greatest directions to get there.  Marie winds up in the wrong building where, much to her surprise, she runs into Jean, who is now living with his mother and working as an artist.  They get to talking and Marie gets Jean to do a portrait of her.  Marie also finds out the real reason Jean didn’t make it to the train station that night and the two of them begin to rekindle their romance.  Eventually, Jean proposes again and Marie breaks things off with Pierre, but Jean’s mother still isn’t thrilled about him marrying her.  After getting into an argument with her, Jean tries to convince his mother that he wasn’t serious about the proposal, but Marie ends up overhearing the conversation and goes right back to Pierre.  This love triangle only becomes more and more treacherous and one of the men involved doesn’t get out of it alive.  However, despite the tragedy, Marie goes on to find true happiness and fulfillment with an unlikely partner.

A Woman of Paris has got to be the most underrated movie Chaplin ever made.  When it was first released, it got off on a bad foot with audiences for one key reason: it didn’t star Charlie Chaplin.  When the movie was marketed, it really played up the fact that it was written, directed, and produced by Charlie Chaplin.  But in 1923, Chaplin was such a huge megastar that people were really disappointed to see a movie with Chaplin’s name attached, but didn’t actually star him.  Chaplin was deeply upset that the movie was such a failure and it remained a sore spot with him for the rest of his life.

It’s really too bad that audiences were so unwilling to give it a chance back then because they missed out on a phenomenal movie.  I can’t really blame Chaplin for being mad that it failed because he really gave this movie his all and it shows.  Of course, the writing and direction were fantastic.  The photography is absolutely beautiful.  I loved how lavish the movie is.  All the party scenes, the swanky apartments, the flapper fashions, they’re all positively decadent.  I always really liked Edna Purviance, she’s my favorite of Chaplin’s leading ladies, so I loved seeing her getting the chance to shine on her own here.  I really wish she had gone on to have a bigger career on her own.

I’m quite fascinated by the relationship between Chaplin and Edna.  For all the women that came in and out of Chaplin’s life, and there were a lot of them, Edna is the one Chaplin had the longest, most loyal relationship with.  It’s pretty well-known that even after Edna stopped making movies, Chaplin kept her on his payroll for the rest of her life.  But I think the most telling thing about how much Chaplin adored Edna is the fact that he wrote A Woman of Paris to try to make her into a star in her own right.  He never did that for any of his other leading ladies, even the ones like Paulette Goddard who he was actually married to.  What greater gift could Charlie Chaplin ever possibly give someone than writing and directing a movie just for them?  In fact, the last thing Charlie Chaplin ever worked on was a new musical score for A Woman of Paris for it to be re-released.  It’s like he was determined to make the movie a hit if it was the last thing he did.  Luckily, when the movie was re-released in 1977, it was received far better than it originally was.  Upon its re-release, it was hailed as “Chaplin’s lost masterpiece” and as one of the greatest movies ever made.  I always love it when people come around to a great movie.  Better late than never!

One comment

  1. What a lovely post on a truly lovely film. So much to gawk at with A Woman of Paris– I love what Scorsese says in the Chaplin doc that accompanied its re-release: “just LOOK at the people. They’re misbehaving like adults. They just don’t have the technology yet for sound, that’s all.”

    It’s such a smart and urbane film– a victim, perhaps, of its own sophistication. No wonder Charlie was crushed at its critical failure: he’d simply taken the sophistication and urbane wit of his own comedies and channeled them into a dramatic vehicle. The public loved him, why shouldn’t they embrace his dramatic efforts? Ah, the cruel truth of celebrity.

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