Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Films of Charlie Chaplin at United Artists

D.W. Griffith, (front left) Mary Pickford, (front center) Charlie Chaplin, (seated) and Douglas Fairbanks (front right)  sign a contract to start United Artists studios.
D.W. Griffith, (front left) Mary Pickford, (front center) Charlie Chaplin, (seated) and Douglas Fairbanks (front right) sign a contract to start United Artists studios.

The year was 1919. Charlie Chaplin had just found great success as an artist and as an entertainer with his work at First National Films. He had also decided to start his own studio with a few of his good friends. Charlie had met Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford as well D.W. Griffith when they moved into the same firmament as Charlie. Fairbanks and Pickford were some of the biggest silent film stars of the time, and were Hollywood's hottest couple. They were Brangelina before Brangelina. They were Dougmary. No, Marylas. Um. Fairford! Pickbanks? Marydoug Fordbankspickfair. Let's go with that one. D.W. Griffith was a very prominent silent filmmaker who would go on to make some of the most important and successful (and controversial to boot) silent films of the era, such as The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance. They all formed a bond very early on that would last years. As mentioned in previous articles, they toured America with Charlie for the war effort as well.

After Charlie had finished with First National Films, it was time for him to really grow as a filmmaker and start his own studio. So, with Fairbanks, Pickford, and Griffith, they founded United Artists, where Charlie would create his absolute best work. The four Hollywood superstars decided to start a production company together when they all wanted to same thing for themselves: freedom. They were all tired of contracts and following orders and they wanted to make films in complete freedom. And as a result, Charlie Chaplin would be free to release his genius. And it showed

Unlike the other studios I've discussed, I'll be reviewing every single film that Charlie released under United Artists, simply because every single release (well, beside the first one) is among his absolute best work.

A Woman of Paris (A Drama of Fate) (1923)

Producer/Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Edna Purviance, Clarence Geldart, Carl Miller
RATING: 70/100

There is no typo in the cast list. This is the first (but not last) film that Charlie had produced/written/directed but not starred in. In a way, it's Charlie's swan song and goodbye present for his longtime muse Edna Purviance as it is their last film together and well as Edna's first starring role. The film tells the story of a woman who, as a result of fate, struggles with finding the romantic happily ever after.

Underneath the annoying broadly-drawn characters and the frustratingly contrived story, one can't help but feel the sense of something magical, a poetic beauty in it's complexities and in it's very essence.

I've always known Chaplin as a great writer, his ability to blend genres together seamlessly is nothing short of amazing. In A Woman Of Paris, Chaplin showcases his sense of tenderness and delicate poetry that he has weaved so perfectly in his masterpieces. Sadly, it's not perfect. It's far from it. This could just be a matter of personal taste, but I found the characters to be frustrating to almost no end. Much of the main turning points in the story arc (and the resulting irony and drama) relies on contrived and forced coincidences that feel illogical and nonsensical and as a result, make the film difficult to swallow. And because of the characters being so broadly-drawn, you have even more trouble swallowing, as you have trouble even understanding the characters themselves. Almost everything feels so vague.

But somehow, despite any flaws or faults you find in this film, you'll feel a sense of brilliance in it's poetry. As I said, it could just be a matter of taste, or perhaps relevance (this film is 90 years old after all), so it could be easier for other viewers to grasp the film's story. And even if you can't, there's something in the film's delicateness in the narrative that keeps you watching and intrigued. By the film's end, my suspicion's were confirmed. Chaplin again displays his impeccable ability to tie up a film's ends to perfection, like a intricately woven tapestry that reveals a beautifully arresting image. Sorry, that was cheesy. But necessary.

There will be many people that will be frustrated by A Woman In Paris, but there will probably be just as many people who will be able to enjoy it. Regardless of how you may feel about it, there's no doubt that you will feel stimulated, emotionally and spiritually, by Chaplin's glorious talent and skill as a writer and director.

The Gold Rush (1925)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain
RATING: 100/100

Charlie has often been quoted saying that this is the film he wanted to be most remembered by. And it's absolutely the perfect film for him to be remembered by.

The Gold Rush, the next of his films added to the National Film Registry, sets the Tramp as the "Lone Prospector" trying to find fortune in the snowy alps of the Yukon. After getting trapped in a snowstorm, his luck doesn't really improve when he meets and falls in love with one of the local girls, who unfortunately won't give him the light of day.

Before I get into the review let me just say that there are two versions of this film. There's the original completely silent version. Then, there's the re-edited 1942 version that has narration by the man himself as well as a different score.

The Gold Rush is my absolute favorite Charlie Chaplin film. Why? Because- wait. What, you don't believe me? Why do yo have to ask "why?" Isn't my word enough for you? Oh, sorry, I'm getting off track again. Anyway, it's my favorite because it painstakingly showcases what made Chaplin a genius, and everything it showcases is absolutely amazing. It rivals The Circus as his funniest film and it rivals The Kid and City Lights as his most touching.. It may not be his absolute technically best film, but it's personally, his most enjoyable for me. And it's largely due to the ridiculous amount of ingenious moments. What makes this film so special is that Charlie's most iconic, influential and popular gags can be found here. There's the chicken hallucination, the boot dinner scene, the snow-shovelling scene, and the dancing saggy pants scene among many others. And of course, Chaplin's greatest moment (which has been called many names), the dance of the dinner rolls, the oceana roll, the table ballet, the dinner roll ballet, whatever you call it, it's Charlie's most famous gag.

It's also one of my favorite scenes of all time. It's just the greatest thing EVER! There's something about the look on Chaplin's face, the brilliant pantomime that's completely captivating and hugely hilarious. The scene has been recreated many times, but nobody even comes close to touching Charlie's scene. It's the pitch-perfect display of Charlie's talent and ability. The way he communiactes with his eyes, his little glances, the subtle arm movements and the perfect precision of the actual steps is nothing but brilliance. The dance is more than enough to make the film worth seeing. But unless you're an unfeeling zombie of a human being, then it's not the only reason to see this film.

If you haven't seen the film yet, then I recommend you seek out the original version first. Well, actually if you buy the DVD, it should have both versions. But I do like the original better but in some ways I don't. The ending is better in the original, and the sound (without narration and with a better score) is better. Although, there is a strange change in the story that I feel is much better in the later version. If there was some way to combine them (sound of original, story of later version but with the ending of original) it would be perfect. The later version with the narration isn't bad, it's actually still really great. It's just different. The original feels more familiar and watching Charlie feels more "at home." It's how it was meant to be seen. Even so, the later version is still great. I suppose it's a matter of taste. Some people find narration annoying. I don't. So, see both versions!

With or without narration, Charlie is always a giant ball of energy, charm, and hilarity. I could watch this film twenty times a day and still never get sick of it. It never ceases to amaze me how prolific he is at making you laugh, feel, and smile. Charlie's incredible ability to effortlessly mend together romance, slapstick, and brilliant storytelling is dumbfounding. A masterpiece in every sense of the world.

The Circus (1928)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Henry Bergman
RATING: 100/100

The Circus is perhaps one of the most difficult times in Charlie's career. He was going through so many things (a bad divorce, relentless media attention, and a multitude of other controversies), that it's a wonder that this film was even made. But Charlie should know that it was well worth the hardship. The Circus is quintessential Charlie Chaplin.

This feature film puts the Tramp getting hired at a failing circus show when he inadvertently makes people hysterically laugh without even trying. The trouble is, when he does try, he can't make people laugh. Well, he can make us laugh at least.

This film would also earn him his first Academy Award as well being another one of his films to be included in the National Film Registry. It was actually the very first Academy Award ceremony ever, where Charlie would receive an Honorary Oscar for his work on The Circus as an actor, director, writer, composer, and producer.

The Circus is another piece of perfect mastery of the art of cinematic storytelling from the master himself. This gem of a film rivals The Gold Rush as Charlie's absolute best work. In fact, it very well may be Charlie's best film. Because it does everything that makes Charlie great, and it does it to the highest level imaginable. It's his best film because it not only comes close to Charlie's downright funniest film, but it's just as close, maybe even closer, as Charlie's downright most touching film. The very fact that it can be both of those things, is evidence of Charlie's revolutionary brilliance and mastery.

Any newcomer to Chaplin's films should see The Circus. It captures perfectly what makes Charles Chaplin one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It's funny, captivating, heart-breaking, and just brilliant in every sense of the word. A good part of the film is silly zany slapstick hilarity, but towards the end, Charlie manages to draw you into his world of heart-wrenching romance/drama that is so emotionally gratifying. Charlie was the master of the romantic comedy and he would turn in his grave if he saw what the filmmakers of today have done to the genre. His ability to make you laugh till your sides hurt, and make you want to cry at nearly the same time is masterful. He truly was a magician.

There are so many wonderful moments in this film, they are some of Charlie most iconic. There's the funhouse mirror scene, the lion cage scene, the cop chase, the highwire act, and of course, the heart-breaking ending. It's one of those films you can see and want to see over and over again and never grow tired of it.

The Circus is an exemplification to Chaplin's genius. It's a perfect example of how he operates. It's massively hilarious, hugely enjoyable, and emotionally gripping. It's just, the perfect Chaplin film and the perfect film altogether.

Oh, and if you came here expecting to learn more about the mythical "Time-Traveler" in this movie, then look elsewhere. I don't really want to get too much into it, and personally, I find it very silly that people are making such a big deal out of it. If you don't know about the whole issue, it's basically centered around a scene in the film where you can see a woman in the background that seems to be using a cellphone. People (dumb people) assumed that she was a time traveler. Well, she wasn't. The myth has already been debunked. Somebody found an advertisement for hearing aids from the same time period, and they're used just like a cellphone. As for why the woman's talking, I ask you this: How would you test out a hearing aid?

City Lights (1931)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers
RATING: 100/100

By the time City Lights was in it's premature stages, silent films had begun to become obsolete. In fact, just mere days after his previous film, The Circus, was released, the very first sound film was released as well, The Jazz Singer. Many of Charlie's friends and family were advising him not to make another silent film. But Charlie was not a follower. He was a leader. He didn't care. Charlie believed that film was a medium for pantomime. He believed that speaking just ruins the entire film experience. But the public did not agree with him. That is, until they saw the film. Despite being "obsolete," City Lights would go on to become Charlie's most successful, important, influential, and memorable film of, not just during the time it was released, but of all time.

City Lights tells the story of the Tramp falling in love with a blind flower girl. She mistakes him for being rich and he doesn't have the heart to tell her the truth. But it's when she desperately needs money that the penniless Tramp does his best to work and earn the money she needs and the money she thinks he has.

This film is perhaps the only film that challenges the tenderness and beauty of The Kid and The Circus. City Lights is simply stunning in it's compassion and stirring in it's delicate artistry. It was voted by the American Film Institute as the greatest romantic comedy of all time (as well as being another National Film Registry addition), and I do not disagree in the least.

The film isn't just emotionally dazzling, it's also very very funny. There are buckets and buckets of brilliant moments that are just so Chaplin. There's the boxing scene, the suicidal millionaire, the party dancing scene, and many many more. It's just as funny as any of Chaplin's best, so don't go thinking it's just one long sappy drama movie.

But what's truly incredible about this film is the story. The story is positively bewitching with what is generally considered to be one of the greatest endings in film history. Whenever there's a great moment in a film that you want to see again and again, it's usually a really funny moment or perhaps a very exciting one. But I found myself replaying the ending over and over because it was just an enchantingly tender moment. Charlie was always known for his expertly precise comedic timing. But no one even considered the skill he had in his dramatic timing! The set-up for the scene is accurate to a T. In a way, you know what's going to happen and it's so thrilling to think about how it will happen. And then, there's the moment where everything, everything the Tramp and the girl had experienced together, it all quickly fuses into that unimaginably beautiful moment that's so touching and moving. But at the same time, it breaks your heart, because the ending is also known for being so ambiguous. The look on the girl's face, unsure of her feelings, opposite the hopeful, wistful, cutesy smirk on The Tramp's face, is the most reeling image you could imagine. The combination of Charlie's intricate storytelling, his breath-taking performance, and the subtle camera, provides one of the greatest endings of all time.

It does so many things, and it does each thing perfectly. The incredible blend of rip-snorting slapstick, heart-gripping drama and hear-melting romance is masterful.What makes City Lights so great is how well everything comes together by it's end and how the ending makes you realize how beautiful, touching, funny, and charming the entire experience is. Another perfect example of why Charlie was the best.

Modern Times (1936)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sanford, Chester Conklin
RATING: 100/100

Funny, smart, and heart-wrenching, Modern Times is another cinematic capture of perfection, or in other words, another one of Chaplin's best work and another addition to the National Film Registry.

Modern Times was released at a point in which the public had almost fully embraced the sound films, or the "talkies" as they were referred to. Everyone that is, except for Charlie Chaplin. Charlie didn't want to give in to the pressures of what was popular. He was like a non-comformist before all the emos and goths made it lame. The main reason why he didn't want to make a talkie is because he never wanted the Tramp to speak. As soon as The Tramp spoke, the magic would be lost, he would say. He was simply quoted as saying, "The Tramp does not speak." Charlie would cave in a bit, because Modern Times has actually been labeled a "silent-talkie." Meaning, it's mostly a silent film, but has talking sound bites. Mostly, the only talking you hear only comes from technology like radios and speakers. Anybody see the subtle irony? It's proof that Charlie was more than just a comedian, he was very creative with his writing. Charlie caved a bit with Modern Times but he would eventually give in, as his next picture would actually be a talking picture, but it did not feature his beloved character. Modern Times would be Charlie's last silent film as well as the last film with our friend, The Little Tramp. And what a send-off he gave him.

Modern Times is a satire about the Tramp getting caught up in the modernization and industrialization of society. It's a commentary on the social situations of labor and people's rights that suffered under the Great Depression, which Chaplin believed, was a direct result of industrialization. Surprisingly, the film is very relevant in it's themes. This film would also feature Paulette Goddard, who was one of Charlie's most beloved wives. But much like his other marriages, it would not work out.

This daring satire is surprisingly intelligent in it's humor and storytelling with some brilliant satirical themes, but at the same time doesn't skimp on the classic Chaplin slapstick and of course, classic Chaplin pathos. Much like his other best work, it's the perfect marriage of hilarious, smart, and touching.

It may not be as consistently funny as his absolute best work, but the film never gets boring and still manages to be fun and enjoyable, even it it's downtime (which is still on a high). And there are loads of hilariously brilliant gags. And let's not forget that some of Charlie's most noteworthy and indelible gags are present in Modern Times as well such as the nervous breakdown scene, the "nose-powder incident," the roast duck scene, and we can't neglect one of my personal favorite gags ever: the red flag scene. But the best moment in the film, and one of the best moments in Charlie's entire repertoire is the magnificent nonsense song and dance. It would be first time anybody would hear Charlie's voice on screen. What's so great about that scene is that it's soooo funny, but at the same time it's so amazing to witness Charlie's talent as a singer, pantomime, and dancer. Charlie knew how to make an entrance. Cause, you know, it was like an entrance into the talking picture world.

It's hard not to appreciate the genius satire and the underlying themes that provide the viewer with a truly invigorating experience. One also can't help but be appreciative of Chaplin's daring in releasing this silent-talkie in the midst of the sky-rocketing popularity of the talkies. Respect. Modern Times is definitely one of Chaplin's masterfully crafted masterpieces, it's a telling story with gripping storytelling, hilarious sight gags, ingenious satire, and an uplifting experience that will leave you smiling a mile-wide grin like an idiot. And not care who sees. Well, maybe a little. No, you won't care. Well, I guess it depends on how much you actually care about what other people think. I have trouble with that. It's hard to pretend like you don't care what other people think, because you just want to be yourself and- wait. Sorry. It's a wonderful movie. That's all.

The Great Dictator (1940)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie
RATING: 100/100

Charlie Chaplin was a very rare filmmaker, in the sense that he was able to create several near-perfect (and some absolutely perfect) masterpieces in succession. The Great Dictator is another one of these masterpieces, and sits as high as Chaplin's best work. This film also garnered five Academy Award nominations, two for Charlie, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Unfortunately, he did not win.

The Great Dictator was Charlie's first true talking picture. It's also Charlie's most controversial, most courageous, and most audacious film of his entire career. In this film, Charlie plays two roles. He plays the Tramp-esque Jewish barber, as well as Adenoid Hynkel the dictator of the fictional country of Tomania who is a direct parody of Adolf Hitler the dictator of Germany and one of the founding members of the Nazi Political Party. The Jewish barber, who looks exactly like Hynkel, gets mixed up in the political wackiness despite not having any knowledge of any of it after losing his memory. That being said, you can see why The Great Dictator was so controversial. Everybody who was involved with production thought Charlie had gone insane. And who could blame them? After all, Charlie was directly poking fun at the most feared and ruthless man on the planet. But can you really blame Charlie? After all, they look so much alike.
I mean, how could Charlie resist when Hitler practically fashioned Charlie's likeness after himself? Yeah, you read that right. Although there was never any proof to it, Charlie believed that Hitler copied Charlie's mustache in order to subconsciously get the public on his side. I never thought about why they had the same mustache. I always assumed that it was just coincidence or that the toothbrush mustache was just very popular at the time (it actually was). One thing that was definite was that Charlie came first. Charlie was world-famous long before anyone had even heard of Hitler, and Hitler didn't have the toothbrush mustache (that's what its called) until many years later.

 But curiously enough, they have much more in common than their mustaches. Believe it or not, Hitler and Chaplin were born only four days apart. That's astounding! And they led similar lives as well. Both of them had a very rough childhood, and struggled in poverty for many years. Out of Charlie's hardship would grow comedy. But out of Hitler's, would grow hate. They are almost like the same person, but on opposite ends of a spectrum. Because at one point, Chaplin and Hitler were the two most famous and well-known people on the entire planet. But they were known for different reasons. If you want to know more about the subject check out The Tramp and The Dictator, a documentary about their lives. Very interesting watch.

Charlie was appalled at what Hitler was doing. He wanted to a make a difference. Now, before I continue, there's one thing I want to stress. This film was released before anybody knew anything about the Holocaust and what Hitler was really up to. Nobody had any idea of the horror that would be discovered, not even Charlie. But when it was all out in the open, Charlie was devastated. He has often been quoted saying that had he known about the horrors that were to come, he never would have made the film.

When Charlie realized the parallels in their lives, and how Hitler had become an evil mirror-image of him, it become very obvious to him what his next film would be. And that's what is so brilliant about the film. The intricacies and the parallelism between the film and real life, i.e. Charlie looking like Hitler, the barber looking like Hynkel, Hitler copying Charlie, Charlie parodying Hitler, it's all so amazing how Charlie thought of it. It must've taken a lot of guts and you can't help but feel great admiration for the little fellow. But that wasn't the only ballsy move that Charlie threw at us. He even included a parody of Mussolini, the dictator of Italy. Jack Oakie played Benzino Napaloni, the dictator of also fictional country Bacteria, and Mussolini's counterpart. Charlie hilariously has Napaloni and Hynkel as "dictator friends" but are actually rivals who are trying to take over the same country. Very funny and very brave.

The Great Dictator is perhaps Chaplin's most intelligent film. It rivals and perhaps surpasses Modern Times as being a brilliant take on controversial matters with very poignant satire. You can't help but admire Charlie's daring and the utter brilliance in the humor and the clever gags. There are some ingenious jokes that keep you laughing even after they're over, because of how they play on your mind.

Charlie is spectacular here, his ability to portray such different and similar characters (in every aspect: speech, demeanor, disposition, and sense of humor) at the same time is bedazzling. The way he portrayed Hynkel is completely uproarious. He had Hynkel and all the other Tomanians speak in a sort of pseudo-German macaronic language that was often humorously translated. The silent film star shows us that he can be just as funny and moving (if not more) in a talkie. He delivers delicious dialogue and very snappy one-liners as well. If this film was a statement on anything else besides politics, it was a statement that showed the world that Charlie Chaplin could make talkies. More importantly, he showed people the reason he didn't make talkies was indeed because he didn't want to, not because he couldn't.

It's not a perfect film, there aren't as many hilarious jokes as you might expect from Chaplin and the script isn't as tight, but the brilliance in this film is more attributed to smart satire, and the underlying messages within. Still, don't think the film is boring or unfunny. It wouldn't be a Chaplin film masterpiece if it wasn't funny and The Great Dictator is very very funny. There are so many incredible scenes that it's so easy to lose count. But there are also many unforgettable scenes that really cemented Charlie's reputation as one of the greatest , like, the barbershop song and shave choreography, the globe dance scene, the hilarious mock-languages, and many more. But just like many of Charlie's best work there's an unbelievably stunning moment that epitomizes the skill and talent that made Charlie Chaplin so beloved.

In the final scene, the Jewish barber, dressed like Hynkel, delivers an undeniably arresting speech. It's a speech that's certainly one of the most impeccably delivered in the history of cinema. But what makes it so wonderful, is that isn't even really acting. All of a sudden, the Jewish barber, Adenoid Hynkel, The Little Tramp, they all leave Charlie's body, and you can see it in his eyes that it's no longer the barber talking, it's Charlie himself. Charlie Chaplin the man himself, not a character or what have you, but as a man, he expresses his wishes, hopes and dreams for a better world. He pleads to anyone watching to help him fight for peace and harmony. It's quite possibly the most inspiring and uplifting experience I've ever had in my cinematic viewing experience. I felt like crying and cheering at the same time when the credits ran, but I couldn't decide which so I just sat there, eyes widened and mouth agape. It's the power and magic of the great Charlie Chaplin at work. What's most amazing is that when Chaplin finally decided to speak, he spoke one of the greatest movie speeches the world had ever seen and will ever see. That's Charlie for you.

The Great Dictator is a must-see for any real Chaplin fan or for any curious newcomers to Chaplin. It's right up there with some of his purely greatest work, because it's funny, moving, and brilliant in all senses of the words. You simply have to see it.

There are probably a few other things that you may be wondering about. Allow me to answer your questions. Your first question might be: Was Charlie Jewish? The answer is no. He wasn't, but his half-brother Sydney was, as well as several people close to him. Despite this fact, Charlie was ridiculed and brutally bashed by the Germans and anti-semites who assumed he was a Jew. There were several films and articles and books that were released after and even before The Great Dictator that viciously attacked Charlie. The reason probably being, Charlie never really denied being a Jew. Everyone assumed that he was, because the whole reason he wanted to make the film is because he was disgusted by the prosecution of the Jews. In fact, Charlie's close friend Ivor Montagu had said that it was after he gave Charlie a book entitled "The Jews Are Looking At You" in which there was a passage about Chaplin that called him a "disgusting Jewish acrobat" that truly gave birth to Charlie's idea to make the film. Many say that Charlie even became a hero to the Jewish folk of the world, they saw him as their savior. Well, not their actual savior. You get what I mean. Whenever someone asked Charlie if he was Jewish he just wouldn't answer. He simply never denied it. But he actually was quoted once saying (after being asked if he was Jewish) : "I can't say that I have that honor." Truly, as wonderful a man as he was a filmmaker.

Another question you're probably asking is: Did Hitler see this film? Well, all signs point to yes, he did see The Great Dictator...twice. Not many people know this, but Adolf Hitler actually loved films, even American films. He would watch many films in his leisure time. And one man who had access to Hitler's documents, saw some proof on a piece of paper where Hitler would dictate which movies he ordered to see. He saw that Hitler had ordered The Great Dictator... twice. So, judging from that, it's most likely that he did indeed see the film. But the unanswered mystery is: What did Hitler think of it? Well, he did watch it twice, so I ask you this: Why would you watch a movie you hate twice? Maybe to investigate it further? Who knows? Charlie was also once quoted saying: "I would give anything to find out what he thought of it." There are those who were in Hitler's inner circle that asserted that he did enjoy the film. Not many people realize that Hitler actually had a great sense of humor. He would always laugh and joke with his soldiers in their downtime. Don't believe me? Check this out.

Eerie isn't it? It's just as hard to imagine Hitler telling a joke. Why did the Jew cross the road? I'm sorry, that wasn't nice. I apologize.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles (idea)
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Martha Raye, Marilyn Nash

RATING: 100/100

The comedic genius that is Charles Chaplin deviates from his usual slapstick romance formula, and successfully takes the foray into the dark comedy realm. In Monsieur Verdoux, Charlie takes another risk by making one of the first films in a very long time that placed Charlie in a character that was nowhere near The Little Tramp. Charlie plays the eponymous character Monsieur Verdoux a charming yet mysterious bluebeard that is being hunted by the police. If you don't know what a bluebeard is, then allow me to explain. It's a person who eats lots of blueberry pie, so much so that they develop a blue beard. No but seriously, a bluebeard is a person (usually a man) who marries woman and then murders them for money. A bit of a surprising leap for Charlie isn't it? Well, it's not all that surprising once you find out the whole story of the story.

There are many accounts regarding the origins of this film. The only sure thing is that the original idea of the film came from acclaimed filmmaker and actor Orson Welles, who is most famous for making Citizen Kane, a film that is generally considered for being "the best film of all time." I don't think so, but that's another article. Some people say that Orson thought of the film and had a script and was set to direct the film with Charlie starring in it, but Charlie backed out and bought the script from him and then rewrote it. Others say that Charlie wrote the script after Orson pitched the idea to him, and went on to make the film without Orson's knowledge. Whatever the truth, it doesn't change the fact that Charlie was directly involved in the writing and his influence shows. Curiously enough, Monsieur Verdoux also got Charlie another Oscar nomination for Best Original Sceenplay which he, again, did not win.

The dark comedy genre and even the serial killer genre are near and dear to my heart and it warms my said heart to see it done perfectly. The film isn't necessarily filled to the brim with jokes and gags, but there are some great daringly dark jokes with a combination of silly slapstick and dark subject matter. The film isn't that funny overall, and it's a tad disappointing, but it's not a boring film, not in the least. There's always something interesting going on, and even if the film isn't hysterical, it's still easily enjoyable.

It's also the first film where I feel Charlie has developed a really well-written story, where the focus is more on the character like a character study, which feels far more different (in a good way) than his usual formula. His other films are nearly flawless in its writing, but there's a sort of traditional yet unique format to this film that feels surprisingly modern and refreshing. Regardless of who really wrote the script, I can still feel Charlie's influence onto the film, and it's pure comedy brilliance. It's soul-wrenching in it's dialogue and the poetry within it, with the last half-hour of the film just one brilliant one-liner after another.

Let's not neglect how great Charlie's performance is. It's so odd seeing him in such a different role. But he pulls it off just as any genius would. Charlie captures the aura of a sinister criminal mastermind, charming womanizer, and the devious mad genius all in one and you can feel it in every word uttered and every slight facial tick. It's magnificence. And if anybody thought that The Great Dictator was a fluke and was doubting Charlie's ability as an actor in talking pictures, their doubts were completely squashed in this film. He speaks his lines with such eloquence that it's so difficult not to be impressed. And to make things even better, Verdoux unleashes a mesmerizing speech, reminiscent of The Great Dictator in it's power and poignancy. It's super-magnificence.

Monsieur Verdoux is Charlie's most introspective and poetic of his films, and it's a mind-gripping and powerful experience. The film is still a masterpiece, but different in the way of his previous masterpieces. It may not be the "perfect Chaplin film" that you might be expecting like his previous work, and it's also not a perfect film, but it certainly feels perfectly amazing to watch. It feels just as humbling to behold the master craftsmanship that one feels when watching a Chaplin masterpiece. It may be much different that his others, but this is definitely a Chaplin masterpiece.

Limelight (1952)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Nigel Bruce, Buster Keaton
RATING: 100/100

Being the first film to actually land Charlie an Oscar (for Best Music (Scoring), Limelight is Charlie Chaplin's swansong. It's his last true masterpiece. It's not his last film, but it will always be his last film in my eyes.

What's great about Limelight is that Charlie almost plays a (greatly) fictionalized version of himself. The 63-year-old Charlie plays Calvero, a retired comedy theater performer turned drunkard who is a very content and wise man yet part of him can't escape his past. His life turns upside down when he saves the life of a dancer trying to commit suicide once she's lost the use of her legs.

Starting with Monsieur Verdoux, Charlie's films began to become more and more different. Limelight could maybe be Charlie's most divergent film. Mostly the reason being that Limelight is almost 100% a drama. There are a few pretty funny moments here and there, but not enough to classify it as a comedy. It's certainly not slapstick. And the entire film has a much heavier tone to it. But that doesn't make this film any worse. Instead, you are given a truly beautiful tragedy with an elegant poetry to it's dialogue, and an achingly moving story.

The story is captivating but there are a few points that may come across as annoying and cliche' to some people. I have to admit that I was one of those people at first. But then that changed when I really began to think about what the film was actually trying to say and things became clear, as did the ingenuity of the story.

The script is so integrally smart in it's complexities and parallels within itself and within Chaplin's own life. The dialogue is utter mind-boggling poetry, and it works so well in the contours of the story arc. Calvero is such a fascinating character and the relationship he shares with the dancer has an alluring ambiguity akin to the Tramp's relationship in City Lights. And only Charlie could have brought such a complicated character to life with such ferocious yet subtle intensity. Everything from the almost Shakespearean eloquence in his speech, to the sharp gripping expression behind his eyes, to the brightness in his smile, it all proves that Charlie is a grandmaster. Throw in Charlie's magical singing and dancing , and the comedy in his stage performances, and even the brilliance in the writing and direction, Charlie Chaplin is a strong contender for the most talented person to honor the silver screen.

But there's one person who rivaled Charlie's talent and fame. His name was Buster Keaton, and he was the only person to dare challenge Charlie. Their fans are largely divided as to who was the best, and there was always a silent competition between them, but in reality they had great respect for each other. Charlie wanted to sort of bury the hatchet by inviting Buster to have a small role in his film, and it's simply the coolest thing in the world to see the two greatest silent filmmakers of all time standing side by side, and even performing a song and comedy act together.

The sheer power in this film's emotion and pathos is staggering. It's a truly powerful and beautiful experience, and most likely, Chaplin's most thought-provoking film. Limelight was a way for Charlie to say goodbye to his adoring fans and in the same way, it was his last great gift to us after an unprecedented success of a career. Thank you Charlie. We miss you.

Charlie's work at United Artists is without a doubt, his greatest work. Every single film is an absolute must-see and there are many collections that have them all together. So basically, you buy the best comedy films of all time, in one package. It's a fantastic deal. Each film is so great, that they're even worth buying separate. Some of Charlie's films here have even been released on Blu-Ray, like The Great Dictator.

United Artists was indeed home to Charlie's master work. But as I said, Limelight isn't actually Charlie's last film. He made two more, but was forced to do them in England because he was DUN DUN DUN exiled from America! It's a long and tragic story but a very pivotal moment in his life. It actually lead to Limelight being delayed (as well as his eligibility for his Oscar) for over twenty years.You can read about it in "The Last Films of Charlie Chaplin," my other post.






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