Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Great Stone Face: An Introducion To Buster Keaton

           When one thinks of silent comedy, several names come to mind. However, for most, only one name comes to mind: Charlie Chaplin. During a time of war and terror, Charlie Chaplin was a shining light of hope that identified with the common man and made light of dark times. Today, he’s regarded as a comic genius, an innovative filmmaker, and simply one of the most important figures in Hollywood history.

            But not many remember that Charlie had a rival. At one point, Charlie was the most recognized man on Earth. But there was one man that rivaled both his popularity, and his genius. This man would create some of the greatest comedy films in film history, with his trademark deadpan style, inventive jokes, near-expert athleticism, innovative film techniques, and unique engineering skill. 

            Buster Keaton was born Joseph Frank Keaton on October 4, 1895. His parents were popular vaudeville and music hall performers, and when their son was barely a child, they brought him in to join the family business. Quickly, Buster’s family and audience realized that he had a knack for performing. He could sing, dance, and perform comedy sketches like the best of them. 

            The trademark Keaton show was a comedy act that Buster performed with his parents. His mother Myra would play saxophone while he and his father Joe would perform a comedy sketch. The sketch almost always ended in Joe throwing his son around the stage, into the scenery, and even into the audience. It shocked many audiences, but they learned to settle themselves when they saw that the boy wasn’t hurt at all. Buster learned from a very early age how to perform stunts. He often stressed in his interviews how he had “learned to fall properly” so that he didn’t get hurt. It was a skill that he would perform magnificently in his future films.

            There are many stories as to where Buster’s nickname came from, but the most popular theory is that it came from the famous illusionist and magician Harry Houdini. Houdini was actually working with the Keatons at the time. One day, an infant Buster fell down a flight of stairs, and crawled away completely unharmed. Houdini then reportedly remarked “That was a buster!” At the time, the term “buster” referred to any sort of physical injury that was certain to cause harm. The nickname stuck.
            If the Keaton act was performed nowadays, accusations of child abuse would certainly plague the family, but believe it or not, Buster loved the act. He never actually got hurt while performing, and even enjoyed himself so much, that he couldn’t stop from laughing during the act. Buster and his family had noticed that whenever Buster would laugh during a show, it would bother and distract audiences, so Buster tried to think of a solution. It was then that Buster developed his trademark deadpan expression, a unique style that would earn him the nickname: The Great Stone Face. 

            The Three Keatons (as they were called) would soon find themselves in Hollywood where a chance encounter would have Buster meeting with one of the biggest silent comics of the time, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Buster and his family had reservations about making the move into film, but Buster would soon discover his intense passion and fascination with it. Buster was always interested in engineering and mechanics, and when he first saw a camera, it was like love at first sight. Buster asked to borrow one of Arbuckle’s cameras and Arbuckle obliged. Buster took the camera home, disassembled it, studied the different parts, and assembled it again. His reservations had completely faded.

            Arbuckle, who was looking for actors to join his troupe, saw potential in the young 22-year-old Buster and signed him on with his company.  The aspirant young lad jumped at the opportunity and soon became quite the celebrity. But by the time Buster had made his first film in 1917, Charlie had already become a household name. Charlie’s film debut was in 1914, and in the first two years alone, he had become a nationwide phenomenon. Buster had quite the act to follow, but he just wanted to entertain, and didn’t care too much about fame because he had found bliss in his calling and passion. Starting from his work with Arbuckle, Buster would go on to make some of the most innovative comedy films in cinema history and become a Hollywood icon.

            Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin changed comedy films forever. Their revolutionary films and characters paved the way for comics of today and helped develop comedy as a respectable art form. The two of them together have created a great deal of the greatest comedy films of all time, many of which are largely considered to be some of the greatest films ever. Today, their fans are largely divided as to who was the best. In the end, Buster and Charlie had the utmost respect for one another and greatly admired each other’s work. 

            Whether or not Buster was the greatest is irrelevant. When it all comes down to it, what really matters is the films. Buster’s films are national treasures that captured his genius and forever molded the comedy genre. His timeless masterpieces like The General, The Cameraman, Sherlock Jr., Steamboat Bill Jr., One Week, and Cops are a testament of what hard work, passion, and perseverance can achieve.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Last Films of Charlie Chaplin

One thing I haven't gotten into in these articles is the controversy in Charlie Chaplin's life. I didn't talk about this for many reasons. It's not my aim to write a biography about Charlie. These articles are more about his work and technique than his life story. Another reason is, just like how it was in real life, Charlie's controversies distracted his fans from his actual work.

I bet that you're probably surprised and at the same time, not surprised that Charlie had a lot of controversies in his life. Almost every major Hollywood superstar has faced the same trouble. it's practically a requirement for them. And seeing as Charlie was the first superstar, it's only natural that he fit the same model. Just like the best of them, he's had demons and skeletons that has plagued him his entire professional career. I don't want to get into every little detail but let's just say that Charlie was a very complicated and complex man. He was criticized for his many messy marriages and divorces with very young women. Most of his wives were only 15-16 when he first met them, even when the 52-year-old married his last wife. But before you start screaming "dirty old man!" and "pedophile!" at your computer screen, remember that these were different times. It was not uncommon at all for women at that age to get married and have children. And if you remember that the average lifespan was at least thirty years shorter at that time, it totally makes sense.

But perhaps Charlie's most controversial...controversy was his accusations of communism and anti-American activity. Unfortunately, Charlie was one of the tragic victims of McCarthyism. I won't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but basically, McCarthyism was when accusations of communism were just all over the place. Everybody were erratically accusing everybody a communist mostly out of panic and paranoia. Many of Charlie's actions and scenes in his films would also be unreasonably used against him. Mainly, because the then director of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover, had some weird fixation on Charlie (probably had a crush on him or something) and was inexplicably determined to take him down. He took every opportunity and exaggerated every little thing in Charlie's films. For example, in The Immigrant, The Tramp kicks an immigration officer in the backside, which Hoover and his critics cited as an example of his "anti-American activity." The satire of Modern Times against labor and economic policies was also used as evidence of Charlie's communist views. Also, in the film, Charlie (hysterically) gets mistaken for a communist leader. His critics weren't too happy about that. But of course, it was The Great Dictator that was the camel that broke the straw's back. Wait. What? Anyway, to Hoover's eyes, the film was entitled "I'm a Dirty Filthy Communist, Please Exile Me From America!" And that's what Hoover did. He just needed an opportunity. It was when Charlie left America for the London premiere of his film Limelight, that Hoover leaped at the chance. When Charlie tried to return to the States, he was not allowed back in.

Charlie was devastated. The U.S.A. had become his home. He never did file for citizenship, but he loved the country and it's people as his own. But he was not deterred. He still wanted to make movies, but was forced to do so in England. His last two films would be produced in his homeland. But Charlie was still angry. And he vented his frustrations by making a statement the only way he knew how: he made a movie about it.

A King In New York (1957)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Dawn Addams, Maxine Audley, Jerry Desmonde
RATING: 70/100

Charlie plays the king that's in New York, King Shahdov, who is the king of a fictional country, that goes to America to discuss his plans regarding atomic power. But when he loses all his money, and suddenly becomes a nation-wide celebrity, the King is appalled when he finds himself doing commercials and TV work to get some cash. Things don't work out that well, when he begins to get mixed up in political quarrels and gets accused of communism.

A King In New York is largely disappointing due to the caliber and magnitude of his previous back-to-back masterpieces. It's not a bad film, but it's fairly bland for the first two-thirds of the film with there being barely any good jokes or gags. The story is fairly interesting and clever in how it parallels Charlie's own life, but it doesn't really go anywhere.

Many of us have our ways to take out our frustrations on certain things. Charlie took out his frustrations in his films. And you can't help but respect the man for it. When Charlie was exiled from America because of accusations of communism, Charlie thought it would only be fitting to make a film that satirized and parodied American culture and political and economic policies. It was very risky, but it was also very clever. But it could also be the reason why A King in New York isn't very inspired. Perhaps Charlie was so devastated (he actually was) that it affected his work. It must difficult to get your groove back when it's been utterly shaken.

Charlie's first film from exile unfortunately isn't very funny. There are barely any moments of hysterical brilliance as you might expect from him and there aren't that many jokes at all. There are some pretty funny moments here and there, and there are lots of great satirical humor, but most of it isn't laugh-out-loud funny. It's fairly clever, enough for you to appreciate, but that's pretty much it. If the overall plot was more interesting, that also would've been helpful. The overall story is pretty great on paper, but it's not executed very well, because the film drags a bit.

But as I said, it's not a bad film. The entire experience is pretty enjoyable. The story is intriguing, and Charlie's performance is wondrous as always. Oh, and one little gem in the movie is seeing Charlie's young son, Michael Chaplin, in his role. It's obvious that talent runs in the family! It may not be a laugh riot, or a brilliant story but it's a decent experience and is worth a watch for any Chaplin fan. Just don't come in expecting another hilarious touching Chaplin masterpiece and you'll be fine. This is actually the reason why I consider Limelight to be Charlie's real last film.

A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)

Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Sydney Earle Chaplin, Tippi Hedren
RATING: 55/100

 It had been over fifty years since Charlie Chaplin had released his first film, but the aging superstar wasn't done yet. His final film, as well as his first color film, was A Countess from Hong Kong. Starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren, it would also be the second film that Charlie would direct but not star in. Brando plays Ogden Meyers, an ambassador for Saudi Arabia who meets a Russian countess in Hong Kong who is played by Loren. When Ogden sails back to America, he finds the countess stowed away in his cabin, trying to escape some trafficking issues. Reluctant to help her, but also fearful for any bad press, Ogden agrees to let her stay.

It pains me to say so, but A Countess from Hong Kong is not a good film. It's boring, unfunny, bland, and predictable. It doesn't feel like a Chaplin film at all, not in the least bit. But, as is the case with almost any film, it could just be that this film isn't my cup of tea. Even though it was critically lauded and did poorly at the box office, there are many critics who deem this film as one of Charlie's best. Even Charlie himself had said that it was the greatest film of his entire life. I don't understand that at all.

There's just almost no redeeming qualities about the film. Well, there's one. Charlie actually has a small cameo in the film as the ship's steward, and it's a magnificent delight to see the black and white silent film star in color. It's also Charlie's very last screen appearance. One other thing that may interest some is that Charlie's son, Sydney Earle Chaplin, plays one of the lead roles and three of his daughters have small cameo roles as well. Other than that, there's really no other way to redeem this film. It's not a technically bad film persay, it's just very mediocre. Like I mentioned before, there may be some people who will be able to appreciate the film better, but I simply couldn't. But, it's worth a shot, if you haven't seen it. With me, It's almost depressing because I wished that Charlie went out with a bang. But as I've said time and time again, Limelight will always be Charlie's last film in my mind. So, in my mind, he did go out with a bang.

Not much is known about Charlie's life, but even less is known about the less years of his life. A very intriguing documntary, Charlie Chaplin: The Forgotten Years, is worth a look. There are also many other documentaries detailing his life, that you can check out on Amazon.

Despite Charlie's last films being greatly underwhelming considering the relentless masterpieces he released before them, it's not difficult to look back at Charlie's career, and know that he truly was a master, a genius, and a great although complex and troubled man.





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.





The Films of Charlie Chaplin at First National Pictures

The most tender scene in The Kid (1921) with Charlie's co-star Jackie Coogan.

The time: 1917. Charlie's contract with Mutual had ended and he was growing immensely as an artist and filmmaker. He decided to sign a contract with First National Pictures wherein they would finance Charlie's films, but he would have complete creative control. Finally, Charlie was able to work in the way he wanted, and it would show in his work. One change that Charlie would make is his pace. He was severely uncomfortable with the unrelenting pace of his previous films (especially at Keystone) where he would have no room to breathe. When he would have more control at Essanay and Mutual, he allowed a slower pace to his liking. But when he would sign with First National, he would take it down to his preferred pace. He made 36 films with Keystone, 15 with Essanay, and 12 with Mutual, but he would only go on to make 9 pictures with First National. He was ordered to make shorts, but Charlie would take a risky move and extend most of his shorts into longer near-feature length films. He would also go on to make his first actual feature-length film: The Kid, which is undoubtedly his most memorable and successful film at First National, as well one of his best and most heart-wrenching films of his career.

Charlie at last could work however he wanted and it allowed him to stretch his artistic prowess to it's maximum, and it would show in his work. His films at First National were certainly his most effective and masterful up to that point, and would become some of his best work overall.

A Dog's Life (1918)
Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Sydney Chaplin
RATING: 95/100
One of Charlie's most lovable qualities is his ability to interact with everything from inanimate objects to animals to people in such a uniquely charming way. He showcases that ability (the middle part mostly) in A Dog's Life when the Tramp acquires a new canine pal that brings his life into perspective, and even helps him land a girl.

A Dog's Life is an extremely cute and amusing short with Charlie in his best comedy shape. His chemistry with the dog is adorable and the story is fun and entertaining. It's not really a hilarious film, but it has so many brilliant moments that gives you a glimpse into Chaplin's genius as a physical comedian. There's one scene where he has a conversation with a man only using his hands. Only Charles Chaplin could pull that off. And he does. Brilliantly so. Then there's that scene with his brother Sydney which is also the first time they would appear together on screen. And it's magical. There are lots of other great and brilliant funny moments, and the entire experience is good fun and simply happy-tear-jerking . And of course, another heart-melting ending, just as everything you'd expect from the master of heart-melting endings.

The Bond (1918)
Producer/Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Sydney Chaplin
RATING: 80/100
The Bond is perhaps Charlie's most different film. That's because it's a propaganda film. During the time this film was released, Charlie and along with a couple of his close celebrity friends, Douglas Fairbanks (Yup) and Mary Pickford (Yup yup), toured America and even internationally, trying to help sell US Liberty Bonds and promoting their cause during World War I. The Bond is a film Charlie made to assist in his tour. A little trivia, Charlie was often criticized for not enlisting in the British Army, despite Charlie telling people that he tried to enlist, but was rejected because he was too small, being only 5'5'' and underweight. Also the Army felt he would be more effective touring and making films. They were right. Charlie's next film, Shoulder Arms, would be evidence of this. (see below) Anyway, back to The Bond.

I feel a bit strange reviewing a propaganda flick, but for your benefit, I will.

Anyway, The Bond is perhaps Charlie's most artistic and unique effort. The film entirely consists of expressionistic skits, shot on a set of props with a black backdrop. It's a truly intriguing experience, and it's wonderfully strange to see a film like this, being it is so different than his other films. I'm not the most politically savvy person in the world (in fact, I'm probably the least), so I'm a little indifferent when it comes to the film's message. I didn't really "get" what the film was about, but it was an interesting experience to see Charlie in such a different environment. It wasn't very funny, but I don't think it was really meant to be a laugh riot. All in all, I feel it's a must-see for any hardcore Chaplin fan, if you can manage to forget the propaganda, you'll find the experience very interesting.

Shoulder Arms (1918)
Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Sydney Chaplin
RATING: 85/100

Allow me to refer to my previously used formula gag: Shoulder Arms = The Tramp + Army Battle = Merriment. Therefore, by the transitive property, Shoulder Arms = Merriment. This First National short places The Tramp behind enemy lines, fighting the good fight, and other war-themed expression. It's a rather daring satire that delves into the silliness and absurdity of war, a setting and story somewhat similar to what Charlie would revisit in The Great Dictator.

At first glance, the film just feels like a mindless 35 minutes of slapstick and silliness. But it's political satire (though not my cup of tea) and it's brilliance becomes apparent upon reflection. Once I realized how daring it must have been to criticize and poke fun at the war effort at the time, the previously insurmountable respect that I had for Charlie became surmounted. But it's more than just satire, this film was one of the reasons why Charlie became such a global phenomenon. At the time this film came out, the entire globe was ravaged by war, poverty and violence. The only light at the end of their tunnel was Charlie Chaplin. He brought people's spirits to a height that allowed them to trudge on, literally saving lives with his playful silliness in the midst of tragedy and horror. Shoulder Arms is a testament to that. American soldiers even saw and adored this film.

The jokes are brilliant and hilarious, and the entire experience is a great time. It's not a masterpiece, as it lacks some of Charlie's trademark marriage of comedy and pathos, but it's still a really fun experience, with some rather clever writing and a handful of hilarity. And if you're a big fan of Chaplin such as I, then you will get a big kick out of seeing the Tramp strut around in his military uniform. Just as always, he's cute and amusing and displays his status as one of the greatest entertainers of the century.

Sunnyside (1919)
Producer/Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Henry Bergman
RATING: 93/100
Sunnyside has this incarnation of the Tramp being a farmhand at a quiet little town in the country. His work is a bit tough, but it's worth it to be near his beloved. But that all comes into jeopardy when a rich upper-class gentleman waltzes into town and attempts to destroy the Tramp's chances with the woman.

Wow! What a charming adorable little short this is! Sunnyside is in the upper echelon of Charlie's better shorts, much like his other work at First National. There are some great moments of hilarity and the romance is heart-warming. Although there are a few moments of downtime, but even the downtime is enjoyable. The overall experience is fun, cute, and amusing, just as you'd expect from Charlie Chaplin in top form. Although, it's not him in erm.. "most top form" as he is in his masterpieces, but this is pretty close to it.

The Kid (1921)
Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan
RATING: 100/100

Charlie's first feature-length film and his first masterpeice. As well as being his second film to be included in the National Film Registry, The Kid tells the story of the Tramp finding an abandoned baby and raising him as his own. They have a rough life, but they find bliss in their bond, sadly, it all changes when an orphan asylum tries to take Charlie's boy away.
The Kid is one of the most achingly beautiful stories and produces some of the greatest moments in not only Charlie's career, but in movie history. It's perfect blend of heart-rending drama and hilarious slapstick is legendary. The Kid is the very first feature film of it's kind to blend the genres in that way.. It's also what made Charlie Chaplin legendary as well. The Kid is just a masterfully crafted story, with such a painfully beautiful score, stupendous performances, and one of the most emotionally captivating films of all time. Making these sort of declarations seems exaggerated, but in my opinion, they ring true.
The film is just one of Charlie's best. In a way, it paved the road for Charlie to create some of his other absolute masterpieces. And in that same way, it's not perfect. But it's a wholly enthralling experience, one that feels like perfection. It's not one of Charlie's funniest, but it's actually more of a film that focuses on the story. Don't get me wrong, there are loads of incredibly hilarious moments, but it's when the film gets down to the grit of the story that it really shines. There's an astounding blend of drama and comedy, but it actually doesn't feel as balanced as Charlie's absolute best. But that's no reason to knock down this film. It's definitely up there with his best.
Not only is the story absolutely captivating, but so are the performances. Charlie shows us his tender side, and it's probably the reason why there have been so many modern-day comedians that go on to do dramatic roles. Because Charlie showed them how. And he is astronomical in his delivery and commitment to the role. Little Jackie Coogan was one of the first child stars ever, and his role here justifies that greatly. He is an absolute joy and the way Charlie interacts with him is simply magical.
The Kid is also one of the first films that he composed the score for. And what a way to introduce your composing talent. The score for The Kid is indescribably beautiful and only exemplifies the most incredible moments. Charlie rips open your chest with his story, clutches at your heart with his performance, and then viciously rips it out with his music. Charlie Chaplin was a grandmaster of film.
The Kid is Charlie's first real masterpiece. It's his first film that is so unbelievably beautiful and funny at the same time, that you can almost feel the genius of Charlie Chaplin exuding from this film. It's simply a triumph of cinematic beauty.

Pay Day (1922)
Producer/Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Mack Swain
RATING: 90/100
Here, The Tramp is translated into a hard-working-man with a nagging wife and then celebrates his paycheck with drinks with his friends, much to the disdain of the Mrs.

Pay Day is one of the funniest (perhaps, THE funniest) Charlie Chaplin short I've seen. It even rivals the features (which are his masterpieces) in side-splitting hilarity. The story is mostly ordinary but the film isn't boring at all. Charlie manages to create ingenious hilarity from simple situations, and displays his amazing ability to mix his charismatic talent, his comedic timing, and his skillful construction of jokes. There are a handful of magnificent scenes that make you want to cry because they're so funny.

The Pilgrim (1923)
Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Mack Swain, Sydney Chaplin
RATING: 95/100
The Pilgrim takes Charlie's Tramp as an escaped convict who gets mistaken for a reverend at a small western town. And of course, trouble (and hilarity) arises when he tries to fulfill his duties as the reverend and then is discovered for who is.

This is another one of Charlie's more daring films. I'm not sure how normal it was for comedians to poke fun at religion back then, but I imagine it's about as risky as it is today, maybe even more. The film doesn't really outwardly criticize religion so much so that it just places some of Charlie's trademark gags in a religious setting, with uproariously funny results. The humor isn't as steady as you might hope, but there are numerous moments that make this film worth watching, such as Charlie displaying his pantomime skills by telling the story of David and Goliath without any words, or the whole "hat-cake incident" among others. Oh, and let's not forget the "awwwwwww" ending, that just melts you heart away. A Chaplin film isn't a Chaplin film without it.

It's a charming, entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyable film, with a fairly amusing story, some brilliant funny moments, and Charlie Chaplin in all his slapstick glory. In other words, it's got nearly everything that his masterpieces do, but just needed a bit more of a stretch to get there. Some of the jokes are a bit flat compared to the great ones, but it's a good time nonetheless and never gets boring. Oh, and the music is phenomenal. Being another one of the films he composed, Charlie again showcases his multitude talents, including his music-writing abilities.

First National is a fanatstic moment in Charlie's career, one that any fan should not pass up. The Chaplin Revue among many other DVD collections are a must-buy for any true fan. You can buy them at Amazon.

Finally, the genius of Charlie Chaplin had arrived. At First National, Charlie had climbed to that peak. He hadn't exactly reached it, but he was a stone's throw away. Or maybe a feather's throw away. You know, because it's really hard to throw a feather, and when you do, it often doesn't go very far. I wonder why. It probably has to do with the resistance of the individual feathers against the-wait. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Charlie had made the climb. He just needed to take that final step. And he would at United Artists, where we would create his absolute best work, and some of the best films in the history of the industry. Haha. That rhymes.





The Films of Charlie Chaplin at the Mutual Film Corporation

With Essanay Studios, Charlie would find a new sense of artistic freedom and a more refined skill as a filmmaker. He would then take it to the next level at Mutual Films, as well as becoming the highest paid actor of the time.

Unfortunately, he wouldn't achieve that optimal level until a few more contracts, but he was even closer at this point. Charlie was now producing his films and would experience near-complete artistic freedom. But didn't have sole ownership of his films, he shared the producing credit with Henry P. Caulfield who unfortunately had a say in production as well. Charlie also had several uncredited co-directors and co-writers, so Charlie's films still weren't completely his. And thus, like Essanay, Chariie would still struggle a bit. However, it's at Mutual where he would create some of his best shorts up to that time as well some of his most iconic images and memorable gags of his career. Charlie made 12 films for Mutual, but I'll only be including eight reviews in this section.
The Floorwalker (Shop) (1916)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Bryan (co-writer)
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Lloyd Campbell
RATING: 70/100 
Although Charlie was given his own studio at his time at Essanay, it would be at Mutual when he would be able to build his own sets. His first film at Mutual, The Floorwalker, would be one of his first films in which Charlie built his own set. One of the more interesting things about the set, is when Charlie asked his team to build an elevator, which would allow Charlie to create one of his most inspired gags: the elevator chase scene. Another iconic image in this film, is one that has been recreated and parodied in several films since then.
Charlie's Tramp encounters the owner of a department store who looks exactly identical to him, and as soon as they see each other, create a rather amusing mirror effect. This gag has been most famously done (and thus popularized the gag) in the Marx Brothers film Duck Soup. The gag would be parodied in several other mediums in the future, such as in the animated series Family Guy. The mistaken identity gag would also be one that Charlie would revisit in several of his other films. This film would also be one of the first times Charlie would feature his good friend Eric Campbell in his trademark role of the angry hothead, a role he would play in a multitude of Chaplin's films as well as starring in some of Charlie's best work.
As mentioned earlier, The Tramp encounters a man that looks completely identical to him. But when he gets mistaken for the man, and the crime he had committed, the Tramp finds himself in deep waters.
A pretty funny and enjoyable short. It's not exactly mesmerizingly good, but it's still pretty fun. The story is pretty clever, but doesn't really go anywhere. There are lots of brilliant gags (seeing the moments mentioned earlier alone makes the film worth seeing) but the humor isn't very consistent. All in all, it's a pretty funny and entertaining film.

The Vagabond (Gypsy Life) (1916)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Bryan (co-writer)
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Lloyd Campbell
RATING: 80/100
The Tramp meets a woman who is being abused by her employers, and he takes it upon himself to rescue her and whisk her away. Their life together is pleasant but things become complicated when The Tramp falls in love with the woman, but the woman falls for another.

With The Tramp (1915), the short from Essanay, Charlie had taken his first step towards his unique genius, and with The Vagabond, he would take another step. But only just a step, it's not exactly a leap, like The Kid. The Tramp and The Vagabond (Man, Charlie like to use "The" in the titles of his films) were two of the very first films ever to display a mixture of comedy and pathos, which would become Charlie's trademark and which he would later perfect in The Kid. The Vagabond comes close, but not as close as The Tramp or nearly as close as The Kid.

But on it's own, The Vagabond is an extremely endearing and adorable film with some beautiful touching moments and a few laughs. But only a few. It's a smidge disappointing because the film isn't very funny. There are a couple or so pretty good moments, but overall it's a letdown. That being so, the film is still very cute and amusing and it isn't really boring, it just works better as a drama with some funny moments, rather than the level of his masterpieces which are a perfect combination of laughs and tears. 

One A.M. (Solo) (1916)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin
RATING: 95/100
One of Charlie's most impressive films is One A.M. It's simply a drunk Charlie coming home from a night out on the town, trying to get inside his house, upstairs into his bedroom, and into bed. That's it! Really! And it's wonderful.

One A.M. is just great. Only Charlie Chaplin can take 15 minutes trying to get inside his house, getting upstairs, and getting to sleep and entertain you every second of it. It just shows the sort of charisma, talent, and mastery that Charlie exuded in his films and made him one of the best who ever lived. One A.M feels like an exercise or lecture in physical comedy (but not a boring lecture, not at all). There may not be anything mind-blowing about this short, but it's just a perfect example of what made Charlie Chaplin the master comedian that he is now known as.

The Pawnshop (At The Sign of the Dollar) (High and Low Finance)(1916)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Henry Bergman
RATING: 75/100
One of Charlie's most famous and successful Mutual shorts, The Pawnshop puts The Tramp working at, as you might expect, a pawnshop. It's a great formula actually. The Tramp + Pawned Trinkets = Awesometown.

Well, it's not really awesometown. It's more like prettygoodtown. There are some great moments here, and the entire film is pretty funny, but it's not very consistent as a slight majority of the jokes grow tired pretty fast and are basically slapstick cliches. There's not much to the story as well. It's still a great enjoyable film overall, and most likely worth your time

The Rink (Rolling Around)(Waiter) (1916)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Henry Bergman, Eric Campbell
RATING: 80/100
This Mutual short is another one of Chaplin's "formula shorts." The formula in this film being: The Tramp + A Roller Rink = Laughter. Much laughter.

Charlie plays a waiter who loves to roller skate, and (big surprise here, just warning you so you don't get too startled) manages to get into some mischief with his boss and some skaters at the rink.

The Rink is one damn funny film. The first third of the film isn't as funny, but as soon as Charlie steps onto the roller rink, laughter and joy ensues. The story is also actually quite amusing and concludes in a rather hilarious explosion of silliness. It's pretty close to getting up there with one of Charlie's funniest, but not quite there. However, witnessing his largely impressive and humorous skating skills is well well worth worth it it.

Easy Street (1917)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell
RATING: 80/100
Here we have a Chaplin silent short that may rival The Immigrant as Charlie's most important and famous work at Mutual Studios. It also may as well be Charlie's most autobiographical with a subject matter very near and dear to Mr. Chaplin's heart. The Tramp, looking for work, joins up with the police force and gets assigned to the toughest neighborhood in the county, Easy Street. He does his best to clean up the area, but struggles when he runs into the bully and his gang that run the whole joint.

As I've mentioned, Charlie grew up in the slums of Walworth, London, which was a very rough and tumble neighborhood. Charlie wanted to recreate his hardship by building a little London town in the middle of Los Angeles, California, and he did so (if I may say so) brilliantly. A little trivia, the name of the street and film is a reference to the actual street Charlie grew up on, which was called East Street. See, it's like Easy Street but with a "T" instead of a "Y" at the end. Clever!

The film may not be very funny (even though it does have a few pretty good moments) but it's definitely one of Charlie's most endearing films as you can almost feel how much of himself he put into this film. The ending is very touching, and you almost feel the sort of difficulties Charlie had to go through to get where he is today. It's a very moving film, but don't expect a lot of funny moments.

The Cure (The Water Cure)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell
RATING: 70/100
This short is actually one of Charlie's more popular Mutual films. Charlie plays a drunkard looking to rehabilitate himself at a health spa, and doesn't exactly get the R&R he's searching for when he can't help but cause some trouble with the management.
The Cure is another one of Charlie's less impressive but still largely enjoyable shorts. There are a few pretty great moments as well as some of Charlie's more memorable and iconic images. The overall film is fun and silly, but it does feel a bit lacking and disappointing as you know that it pales in comparison with some of Charlie's better work. But on it's own, it's a fairly amusing albeit inconsistent short with some great moments.

The Immigrant (A Modern Columbus)(Broke)(Hello U.S.A.)(The New World) (1917)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin, Henry P. Caulfield
Writer/Director: Charlie Chaplin
Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell
RATING: 90/100
The Immigrant is undoubtedly Charlie's most successful, important, and iconic film up to that point. It's his first of many films to be added into the National Film Registry, which if you don't know, is a pretty big deal. A film is added to the Registry (which is part of the American Library of Congress) when it is deemed "culturally, aesthetically, or technologically significant." And The Immigrant definitely is all of those. This film would also be one of the first courageous satires of his career, being a film criticizing and parodying the search for the American Dream.
Charlie plays an immigrant (do I even have to say it?) who finds love on the boat to America. They travel to America in hopes to find wealth and a better life, but they don't exactly get what they want.
It's amazing how much Charlie can give you from so little. The plot is simple and light, and the entire experience is hugely amusing but may not be very hysterical as you might hope. There are some pretty great scenes, but the film just isn't that funny. It's not boring or anything like that, the story is actually quite moving and endearing. It may not be a laugh riot, but The Immigrant is definitely one of Charlie's most magical films. The tenderness and the delicacy of the characters and the way they interact is beautiful.

The Mutual shorts are filled with great gems of Charlie's career that any fan or aspiring fan will enjoy. You can buy DVD collections of them at Amazon.

Charlie's work at Mutual is very similar to his time at Essanay, but it is a step further. He had more creative control, but not as much as he would've wanted. Despite this, Charlie produced some of his best and most memorable shorts at Mutual. Charlie had definitely found his way as a comedian (seeing as some of this funniest films are from Essanay and Mutual) and he had begun to find himself an artist, creating very touching and emotionally gripping films at this point. But you ain't seen nothing yet. His next career move would take him to First National, where his work would be almost leaps and bounds over his previous work.