A Woman of Paris (1923) Review

A Woman of Paris (1923) Director: Charlie Chaplin

★★★☆☆

Unlike Chaplin’s other films, A Woman of Paris, is a serious, somber story that does not feature Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character at all. A Woman of Paris was a box office failure, as many audiences were hoping to see a classic Chaplin comedy picture with the Little Tramp. Its financial failings caused great pain to Chaplin at the time. In some ways, A Woman of Paris may be considered his first feature production, as it was released through his newly formed United Artists production company, though in truth his first true feature-length film was The Kid (1921).  

The beginning of the film displays a title warning the audience that Chaplin does not appear in the film (though he makes a minor cameo during the train station scene). A Woman of Paris tells the story of Marie St. Clair, a woman of Paris, who plans a romantic rendezvous with her lover, Jean Millet. Upon learning of the trist, both her father and Jean’s family reject Marie. Nevertheless Jean and Marie plan to meet at the train station to elope in Paris. In actuality the film was shot in Los Angeles, CA. However, Jean’s father suddenly dies causing Jean to call Marie and cancel their escapade but no one answers.

Years later, Marie is living a lavish life in Paris as the mistress of Pierre Revel. By accident, she bumps into Jean who is now living in a flat with his mother. They rekindle their romance, but Jean’s mother does not approve of their love. Marie overhears their squabble and she runs back to Pierre. In a frenzy, Jean attacks Pierre and in the ensuing fight he mortally wounds himself. In anger, Jean’s mother goes to find Marie to kill her, but she finds her weeping over Jean’s lifeless body. Only now is she able to see Marie’s true love. The two women embrace and leave Paris together to start an orphanage in the country for children. One day they catch a ride back and pass a chauffeured coach, and inside is Pierre. A man asks him whatever happened to Marie, and he says he does not know.

The story for A Woman of Paris was loosely based on Chaplin’s romance with Peggy Hopkins Joyce, a notorious and lavish socialite of the ’20s and ’30s known for having numerous affairs in France and the United States. Upon its release, A Woman of Paris was not well received by audiences, however it has since been reappraised and has received critical acclaim for the complexity of its characters and orchestration of its plot –somewhat of a novelty at the time of its release. Mary Pickford gave notable praise for the film.

I found A Woman of Paris to be rather bland and forgettable, but certainly not a poor film. The plot and character development are both unique novelties for the time, however the film is greatly overshadowed by Chaplin’s other, grander works. If not for Chaplin’s involvement, A Woman of Paris would likely be wholly forgotten.

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