"A Woman of Paris" (1923) is a silent melodrama that is perhaps the least famous of all Charles Chaplin's films. Edited, written, produced and directed by Chaplin for United Artists, the film is notable for being the first to not feature himself as the leading actor. Setting new standards in silent dramatic acting and directing, "A Woman of Paris" is a scrutiny in the inconsistencies of love. The story begins with Marie St. Clair, played by Edna Purviance, a simple girl living in a French village who plans to elope with her lover, artist Jean Millet, played by Carl Miller, even though her stepfather attempts to stop her. Jean brings her to his home, but they are also rejected by his father. Jean and Marie decide to leave for Paris that night. They proceed to the railroad station where Jean leaves Marie with money for tickets while he returns home to pack. A final confrontation with his parents brings on a fatal stroke to his father. When Marie calls Jean to find out why he is late, he tells her that he must stay. Believing she has been jilted by her lover, Marie boards the train to Paris by herself. A year later, Marie has assimilated into the upper-class lifestyle of Paris, having become the mistress of a wealthy, cynical businessman, Pierre Revel, played by Adolphe Menjou. It is at this point in time that she and Jean suddenly meet again. Even though both of them are glad to see each other, the passage of time has made them reserved and they conceal their real emotions. Jean has become an accomplished artist and Marie hires him to paint her portrait. However, Jean paints her as he knew her in the small village. When Jean declares his love, Marie is forced to choose between a life of love or a life of luxury. Jean is torn between his lingering love for Marie and his mother's insistence that she is not a respectable woman. Misinterpreting events, Marie bounces back and forth between security and love. The ending is quite emotional.
"A Woman of Paris" was a serious, sophisticated continental drama that was very much out of tune with the then dominant trends in American filmmaking. Chaplin had made the film because he wanted to direct a drama and make his longtime leading lady, Edna Purviance, a star, but this never happened. Instead, co-star Adolphe Menjou launched into superstardom after the film's release. Menjou is wonderful as the rich, conceited playboy. The film is stunning to look at; the women's costumes and sets are gorgeous. The cinematography is especially first rate. Acclaimed by critics and renounced by the audience, "A Woman of Paris" was a commercial flop. It was also banned in several states on the basis of immorality. There are some scandalous Parisian party scenes, including one where a mummified woman unspools her wrapping onto a fellow partygoer and ends up naked. The film is quite an interesting change of pace from Chaplin and is definitely worth watching. "A Woman of Paris" is not only an outstanding piece of filmmaking, but it is also a strong commentary about what is truly important in life.