Thursday, August 11, 2022

Charlie Chaplin

At one time Charlie Chaplin was the highest paid entertainer in the world.  In his life he certainly stirred up controversy.  Now although his films are seldom seen he warrants a closer look.

 Born in England, Charlie had a mother with mental breakdowns and father with alcohol problems.  He spent time in and out of work houses and other charitable locations.  At age 5 he was pulled on stage to sing a song and by age 8 he was on a regular tour with his family. 

At age 19 he was taken to the United States and for a time roomed with Stan Laurel.  By 1914 he joined up with the Keystone Studios.  He developed the Tramp role and by 1918 had become globally famous and the highest paid entertainer in the world.  In 1919 he co founded United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith.  His first feature under that arrangement was "The Kid"  The subtitle "6 reels of Joy" was because the length of the film was two reels longer than normal.  

Some of his films are below.  Chaplin was a perfectionist which means his films take longer and are more costly to produce.

"The Kid" (1921) Follows a personal tragedy when his son dies after 3 days and later he discovers Jackie Coogan.  The tramp is left with a baby.  He takes care of it, but turns the young boy into an accomplice for a racket where the boy breaks a window and the tramp gets paid to fix it.  A happy ending.  Jackie Coogan became a child star, but went through bankruptcy before re establishing himself.

In the film his second wife, Lita Grey who was 12 years old at time, but identified and elevated to playing an older girl.  During the filming/editing process he was divorced from his first wife, Mildred Harris.

"The Gold Rush" (1925) was considered Chaplin's favorite film.  Originally Lita Grey was to be the leading lady, but she became pregnant, forced Chaplin to marry her.  The actress who replaced her Georgia Hale had an affair with him.  picked up 500 vagrants from camp in Sacamento for long line of men climbing mountain.  

Chaplin was always looking for ways to enhance his films.  This film used special camera techniques, some involving glass.   There is a scene where two men eat their shoes out of desperation, apparently they were made of licorice.

He needed to make money and this film became one of the highest grossers for United Artists.  It was revised in 1940 with musical score composed by Chaplin.  He edited out the final kiss with old flame Georgia Hale.

"City Lights" (1931) was filmed after sound had arrived, but Chaplin insisted on the silent pantomine format he had been so successful with in the past.  The story is about a blind flower woman who thinks the tramp is a rich man while in fact he does have a rich friend who is usually drunk.  The secret explained is rehearsals to get the details exactly right.  

"Modern Times" (1936)  Partly inspired by a conversation he had with Mohandas Gandhi about how machines were taking jobs away and creating misery.     This was intended to be his first talkie, but decided the Tramp would be better suited to a silent format, but a few mechanical voices were heard (from a videophone, a phonograph and a radio).  One theme was that automation forced the worker to unrealistic effort.  Apparently the House of Un American Activities felt this proved Chaplin had Communist sympathies.  Working with his wife Paulette Goddard was stressful as he wanted her presented in shabby clothes and on one occasion she dressed up with makeup and was rewarded with a bucket of water.  The tune for "Smile" was written by Chaplin.

"The Great Dictator" (1940) had Chaplin in a dual role--one as a Tramp like barber and the other as the Great Dictator.  This film was financed by Chaplin alone and became his biggest grosser.  This was his first all talking film.  When the film was announced the British government trying to appease Hitler said they would ban it, but when the film was available Germany had started the war and the ban was lifted.  Chaplin's treatment was testy and they later divorced.  Chaplin was persuaded to add a new cinematographer who in turn convinced Chaplin to use two cameras to have two angles available. 

 What prompted this post were some comments from a senior call in program emphasizing the final speech   Here it is:  Later he was criticized for supporting the Russians against the Nazis.

In 1942, after briefly dating Joan Barry she sued for paternity, but a blood test proved he was not the father.  Nonetheless he was required to pay the child $75 a week until the age of 21.

In 1943 he married Oona O'Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill who opposed the marriage.  This marriage lasted the longest, in fact until his death.  They had 8 children., including actress Geraldine.

"Monsieur Verdoux" (1947) Idea was credited to Orson Welles   A charming man with a wife and child found to keep his family viable he married wealthy women and murder them.  Eventually he got caught and at the end gave some speeches about society that some would claim were communistic.    "It is more important to understand crime than to condemn it"is one relevant quote.

"Limelight" (1952) had Chaplin playing a has been who was humiliated.    Chaplin was listed as a third party for choreography    last film in the U.S.  American Legion declared him a Communist with lots of examples of working with other liberals   Apparently J. Edgar Hoover still bore a grudge and was able to tamp down distribution of this film.  As he left for a European promotional effort was told his U.S. visa would not be renewed and if he returned he would be arrested.

"A Countess from Hong Kong" (1967) was his last film credit.  It starred Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren and his son Sydney Chaplin.  Chaplin was writer, director, composer and uncredited producer with a small acting role.

A quote to close:  "I remain just one thing only and that is a clown.  It places me on a plane far higher than any politician."

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