Charles Chaplin hired famed press agent Russell Birdwell to publicize this film. Just prior to the premiere, Birdwell wrote columnist Hedda Hopper a note saying: "I contend that Charlie Chaplin's 'Monsieur Verdoux' is the greatest and most controversial picture that has ever come from the Hollywood mills. If I lose I will publicly eat the negative of the film in front of the Chaplin studios. Sincerely, Bird." After she'd seen the film, Hopper wired back: "DEAR BIRD: START EATING. HOPPER."
According to Robert Lewis, "It was easy to define the position held by Charlie Chaplin in the making of "Monsieur Verdoux." He was everything - writer, star, director, producer, and casting director, as well as supervisor of all other departments: costumes, scenery, make-up, lighting, shooting schedules, camera set-ups, and the musical score. He also crawled around on the floor with a knife, scraping up bits of old chewing gum stuck to the floor. For good measure he'd entertain the troops between shots with hilarious imitations, such as William Gillette's inanimate playing in "Sherlock Holmes," a Kabuki actor pounding his feet on the floor, and crossing his eyes with pain, or Maurice Schwartz, the Yiddish actor, intoning a speech while twirling an imaginary beard that went clear to the floor."
Based on real-life French murderer Desire Landru, who was guillotined in 1922.
Before production started, approval was refused by the MPPDA (now the MPAA) under the Production Code (Hays Code), labeling the scenario, still called "A Comedy Of Murders", in their words "unacceptable". They continued, "In his indictment of the 'system' and the 'social structure', the filmmaker offered a 'rationale' of Verdoux's crimes, in terms of their moral work." Worst of all the board also considered Verdoux's attitude toward god "blasphemous". In a letter of response, scene by scene, Charles Chaplin upheld his screenplay again the charge of subversion, but only giving in on details. For example, when one of Verdoux's wives invites him to "come to bed" the line had to be replaced with "get to bed". Chaplin had no trouble getting around such proscriptions, as he did with Verdoux's morning-after "humming" with briskly engaging music. The production board complied and gave this film a seal of approval.
Chaplin bought the idea for the film off Orson Welles for $5,000. Welles had been contemplating making a dramatized documentary of the real story of French serial killer, Henri Landru.
Chaplin regarded the film as "the cleverest and most brilliant film of my career".
The film was a colossal box-office flop on its 1947 release, despite being ardently championed by writer-critic James Agee, who considered Charles Chaplin's acting performance the greatest male performance he had ever seen in films.
The film was originally meant to be directed by Orson Welles and starring Charles Chaplin, but Chaplin backed out at the last moment, saying that he had never had anyone direct him before and didn't want to start. Instead, he bought the screenplay off Welles and re-wrote parts of it, crediting Welles with only the "idea". Welles said that, despite most of the script being his, he didn't mind as it was one of his lesser works.
The producers of the film were sued in 1948 by Parisian bank employee Henri Verdoux.
The tune that Verdoux plays on the piano as Lydia sits by after she withdrew the 70,000 francs is the opening and closing theme to Chaplin's film A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate, which he used in 1976 when he re-scored the picture.
Verdoux's quote "One murder makes a villain; millions a hero" is taken from the abolitionist Bishop Beilby Porteus (1731-1808).