Friday, September 20, 2013

Chaplin * * * 1/2

Charlie Chaplin grew up impoverished in England. After his mother was committed multiple times to an insane asylum, the teenage Chaplin got a job in theater and was a comic success in Vaudeville type shows. After getting a chance to tour the United States a couple of times, he was offered a job as bit player in a fledgling movie company. It was here that he invented his Little Tramp character and quickly became an international sensation. At the time, he was possibly the most famous man in the world. Around 1920 he co-founded the United Artists movie studio with a few other actors including Douglas Fairbanks. This gave him complete creative control over his movies and he directed films that are now considered classics, like The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, The Great Dictator, and Limelight.

Chaplin used the last 6 minutes of The Great Dictator to express his political views, calling for peace just before the United States got involved in World War II. Although the ending is now considered great, it wasn't well received at the time. Chaplin was being increasingly political and many people viewed him as extreme left wing. By the early 1950’s the Red Scare was causing some people in the government to think that Chaplin was a communist. Chaplin had further problems in the 1940’s because he was involved in sex scandals, which angered many Americans. Chaplin had never become an American citizen, and when he took a vacation to Europe in 1952, he was told that that he would not be readmitted to the United States. Chaplin could have fought this easily, but instead made a statement that he no longer wanted to live in such a hateful country. He moved to Switzerland where he lived for the rest of his life.

Chaplin continued to make movies. Charlton Heston worked with him in the 1960’s, and described Chaplin as unpleasant to work with.

In 1972 the aging and ailing Chaplin was invited back to the United States to receive a special Oscar at the Academy Awards. In 1975 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. He died in 1977 at the age of 89.

The 1991 movie called simply “Chaplin” received mixed reviews because many critics felt that it focused too much on Chaplin’s personal life and not enough on his creative genius. I feel that it does both rather well. Chaplin lead a long, complicated, colorful and controversial life and this movie tries to hit all the major points, which makes the film feel rushed. You almost need a road map to understand all the things that happened in Chaplin’s life. The man had multiple relationships, 4 marriages, a large number of children, and he lost a paternity suit over a child that was most likely not his.

It is hard for me to dislike this movie because I am such a big Charlie Chaplin fan.

A very young Robert Downy Jr does a splendid job of playing Chaplin. He does the physical comedy so well that it creates the illusion that you are seeing the real Charlie Chaplin. The movie also features the fine acting talents of Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Kevin Kline, and David Duchovney. Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, Geraldine Chaplin, does an extraordinary job playing her grandmother.

The movie does a good job of showing how Chaplin’s motivations derived from early unpleasant experiences in his life. It also does a good job of recreating early 20th century America.

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