A Woman of Paris (1923) Director: Charlie Chaplin
Unlike Chaplin’s other films, A Woman of Paris, is a somber story and Charlie Chaplin does not appear at all in the film. A Woman of Paris was a box office failure, as many audiences came expecting to see a classic Chaplin picture. 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.
The beginning of the film shows a title warning the audience that Chaplin does not appear in the film (though he makes a minor appearance during the train station scene). It tells the story of Marie St. Clair, a woman of Paris, who plans a romantic rendezvous with her lover, Jean Millet. Upon realizing this, both her father and his family reject Marie. Nevertheless Jean and Marie plan to meet at the train station to flee Paris and elope. 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 away 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 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 the film is loosely based on Chaplin’s romance with Peggy Hopkins Joyce, a notoriously lavish socialite of the ’20s and ’30s who had numerous affairs in France and the United States. Upon its release, the film was not well received by audiences, however it has received continued critical acclaim for the complexity of its characters and story, a novelty for the time. Mary Pickford gave notable praise to 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, A Woman of Paris would likely be wholly forgotten.