Release Date: December 15th, 1919 Directed by: Charles Chaplin Written by: Charles Chaplin Music by: Charles Chaplin (in 1959 re-release as part of The Chaplin Revue) Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Marion Feducha, Bob Kelly, Jackie Coogan, Tom Wilson, Babe London, Henry Bergman, Loyal Underwood
Charles Chaplin Productions, First National Pictures, 25 Minutes
This wasn’t Charlie Chaplin’s greatest film and truth be told, critics were underwhelmed by it and thought of it as his least impressive.
Still, this was enjoyable if you’re a fan of Chaplin and the silent slapstick comedy style.
The story is about Chaplin, as his Tramp character, taking his family on an excursion. Most of the action takes place on a ferry but there are some other scenes like the beginning, which sees Chaplin having trouble starting his Ford and the finale that involves a traffic cop and some sticky, hot tar.
On the ferry we get gags that feature seasickness, as well as some physical comedy centered around the turbulent boat ride.
In the end, this is still amusing and lighthearted but it lacks that extra oomph that Chaplin’s films typically have. I think the setting detracted from the performance, however. But it’s still entertaining and a pretty quick watch at just twenty-five minutes.
Rating: 7/10 Pairs well with: other Chaplin shorts, as well as the short films of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.
Also known as: The Masses (working title) Release Date: February 5th, 1936 (Rivoli Theatre, New York City premiere) Directed by: Charlie Chaplin Written by: Charlie Chaplin Music by: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Chester Conklin
United Artists, 87 Minutes
“[from the Telescreen in the restroom to the factory worker] Hey! Quit stalling, get back to work! Go on!” – President of the Electro Steel Corp.
I’m going to start this by saying that Modern Times is one of my two favorite Charlie Chaplin films. The other is City Lights and it’s hard to put one of these over the other. But this may have a bit of an edge, as I think the factory worker sequences are Chaplin’s best.
This film covers a lot of ground, narratively speaking, for something that’s less than 90 minutes. But in the time that this came out, it’s much longer than most of the Chaplin films before it.
It starts with the Tramp character working in a factory, as the film rolls on, we see him start to break down and eventually go a bit crazy. He’s institutionalized, gets cured and then hits the streets trying to rebuild his life. Along the way, he meets Paulette Goodard’s Ellen, a bit of a troublemaker but her shenanigans are because she’s trying to feed her hungry siblings.
A romance develops and the chemistry between Chaplin and Goddard is pretty natural but maybe we were seeing them actually fall in love, as the two were married for a few years after this picture.
Chaplin really does give one of his best performances here and the stunts were some of the most creative and impressive. While it seems to be going for more of a straight comedy route with the gags than trying to wow us with Chaplin’s resilient physicality, it doesn’t feel like that stuff is lacking. And his routines here are still impressive.
For instance, the balcony roller skating scene is more nerve wracking than physically impressive. But stuff like this isn’t less effective or more effective than Chaplin’s more physical slapstick. I guess that he proved that he didn’t need to beat himself up to still get audiences to love him. Plus, by 1936, that stuff may have been taking a real toll on his body.
Modern Times is a sweet movie that features one of the most beloved film characters of all-time. What’s not to love? This is one of Chaplin’s greatest films and for good reason.
Rating: 10/10 Pairs well with: Chaplin’s greatest works: City Lights, The Great Dictator and A King In New York.
Also known as: La naissance de Charlot (original French title), How Chaplin Became the Tramp (alternate title) Release Date: December 29th, 2013 (France) Directed by: Serge Bromberg, Eric Lange Music by: Robert Israel Cast: Charlie Chaplin (archive footage)
Arte France, Lobster Films, Roy Export Company Establishment, 52 Minutes, 61 Minutes (extended TV edition)
There are a ton of documentaries on Charlie Chaplin. They are literally a dime a dozen and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad one but a lot of the information has been recycled a dozen times over. I’ve yet to see one that is exceptional, however.
That being said, this isn’t an exceptional one either but it is still a quick, entertaining watch and it pretty much just gets into his background and early career up to the point where he was about 30 years-old.
The focus of this was about how Chaplin evolved into his famous Tramp character. I like that this was character focused more so than on his general life or general filmmaking. It does cover those things but it’s more focused on the iconic Tramp persona.
This had good interviews and was well edited. The narrative flows nicely but I wish that this was actually fleshed out more. It just seemed a bit rushed for just a 52 minute piece.
Still, if you are a fan of Chaplin or the silent era of filmmaking, this is worth checking out. Also, it’s streaming for free for Prime members on Amazon Video.
Rating: 7/10 Pairs well with: any of the various other documentaries on Charlie Chaplin, as well as his original films and the biopic Chaplin with Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin.
Also known as: Vanity Fair (alternate title) Release Date: September 25th, 1921 Directed by: Charles Chaplin Written by: Charles Chaplin Music by: Johnnie von Haines (1969), Charles Chaplin (original) Cast: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Henry Bergman, Mack Swain
Charles Chaplin Productions, First National, 32 Minutes
“I will occupy other rooms until you stop drinking.” – Edna, Neglected Wife
I had never seen this short by Charlie Chaplin until now. He has so many films and seeing them all is a big feat. Well, seeing the ones that have survived and not been lost to time.
I had no idea that this had a bunch of golf gags in it, which was really amusing and cool to see done in the Chaplin style.
There are a lot of gags and stunts that are incredible to watch, especially today when most of these stunts would be achieved by using CGI or green screens. This almost plays like a 1920s Caddyshack. Granted, there isn’t a gopher. But come to think of it, Chaplin versus the famous gopher would have been comedy gold.
Anyway, the biggest narrative focus in this film isn’t golf itself but about Chaplin’s Tramp character crossing paths with the richer class. This isn’t a new shtick for him, as the Tramp often times finds himself in these situations but with Chaplin, it’s the gags that make the movie and this one doesn’t disappoint.
The Idle Class isn’t a classic like City Lights but it is a strong and effective outing for Chaplin that only served to keep propelling his career forward.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: Other Chaplin pictures during his run with First National: A Dog’s Life, Shoulder Arms, Sunnyside, The Kid, Pay Day, The Pilgrim, etc.
Release Date: October 20th, 1918 (limited) Directed by: Charlie Chaplin Written by: Charlie Chaplin Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Sydney Chaplin
Charles Chaplin Productions, First National Pictures, 45 Minutes, 36 Minutes (TCM print and DVD)
Shoulder Arms came out around the same time as A Dog’s Life, which I loved. Both films are early Charlie Chaplin works but also helped to bolster his growing popularity and lead to him being one of the most celebrated comedians of all-time.
This is Chaplin’s shortest feature film but it is also the first feature length picture that he directed. It was his most popular film commercially and critically up to its point of release in 1918.
The film has some solid material from the master of slapstick.
Charlie is at war and he hasn’t received any letters from home. However, one day he gets a package of some pretty stinky cheese, which he needs a gas mask to handle. After throwing it into a German trench, he captures thirteen enemy soldiers. He then spends some time wandering around behind the enemy lines disguised as a tree. The tree stuff is some of my favorite Chaplin material that I’ve seen. Most of the film ends up being a dream sequence.
Even though this is an early film in Chaplin’s long career, he was already a veteran at comedy and his shtick is just as effective here, as it has ever been.
The film is light, amusing and a quick watch.
Rating: 7.75/10 Pairs well with: Chaplin’s early films for First National: A Dog’s Life, The Bond, Sunnyside, A Day’s Pleasure, The Kid, The Idle Class, Pay Day and The Pilgrim.
Release Date: January 30th, 1931 Directed by: Charlie Chaplin Written by: Charlie Chaplin Music by: Charlie Chaplin, Jose Padilla Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Henry Bergman, Albert Austin, Jean Harlow (extra)
United Artists, 87 Minutes
“You can see now?” – The Tramp, “Yes, I can see now.” – A Blind Girl
Many consider this to be Charlie Chaplin’s magnum opus. Some even consider this to be the greatest American film ever made. Having finally seen it, I find it hard to argue against either of those claims. Granted, it isn’t my favorite American film ever made, but it is in the upper echelon and deservedly so.
When this film came out in 1931, Hollywood had embraced sound. The silent era was quickly dwindling away but Chaplin stuck to the cinematic style that made him famous, keeping this a silent picture despite the film industry’s technological shift and the public’s demand for “talkie” pictures.
Charlie Chaplin, alongside his leading lady Virginia Cherrill, proved that you didn’t need sound to tell a compelling story and that they could convey immense emotion through their acting.
In fact, the final scene of the film is considered one of the best acted scenes in the history of film. In 1949, critic James Agee called it the “greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.” Not a bad outcome, especially considering the rocky behind the scenes relationship of Chaplin and Cherrill.
In the story, Chaplin returns as the Tramp character. He falls in love with a blind flower girl (Cherrill) and also befriends a rich drunk (Myers), who he saves from suicide. Over the course of the film, he tries to win over the flower girl and when he discovers her financial woes, does whatever he can to try and help, displaying the selflessness of his character.
At one point, the Tramp goes as far as competing in a boxing match to try and get enough money to pay the girl’s rent so that she and her grandmother won’t be evicted. Even though he finds himself in over his head in many situations, this is the sweetest that the Tramp character has ever been.
Ultimately, he goes to jail but not after he gives enough money to the girl to not only pay her rent but to afford her the expensive surgery she needs to get her vision back. After he gets out of jail, months later, we are treated to one of the best endings in the history of cinema.
City Lights is so superbly acted that there really isn’t anything else like it, especially considering that it was a silent picture that came out after its era. It is a perfect balance of the type of humor you’d expect from Chaplin while being a real romantic drama that packs a lot of emotional weight.
It was also the first film scored by Chaplin and the music is pretty close to perfect, especially the flower girl’s theme that was composed by Jose Padilla (he actually successfully sued Chaplin for not being given credit for his contribution).
City Lights is a phenomenal work of art that was directed by, starred and composed by one man, a true auteur of his and any era.
Release Date: April 14th, 1918 Directed by: Charlie Chaplin Written by: Charlie Chaplin Music by: Charlie Chaplin (in 1957 released as part of The Chaplin Revue) Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Syd Chaplin, Henry Bergman, Charles Reisner, Albert Austin, Tom Wilson, Bud Jamison
First National Pictures, 33 Minutes
A Dog’s Life is a pretty notable film in Charlie Chaplin’s long career. It was his first picture with First National, who would go on to distribute other Chaplin films, as well as a slew of others during the silent era before being absorbed by Warner Bros. in 1929. Also, this film features several of Chaplin’s regulars in various roles. And even though Chaplin was the star of the picture, he played second fiddle in the title behind “Scrappy”, a dog who was the actual hero of the story.
While this film is quite short, it is a quintessential Tramp movie. It focuses on that character, Chaplin’s most famous, and has some of his best gags.
The film, like most of the ones featuring the Tramp, is more a series of gags and funny scenarios strung together with a simple narrative. In this picture, the Tramp falls head over heels for a singer in a dance hall. He also has run-ins with the law and the staff at the dance hall that employs the apple of his eye. With the Tramp is his faithful dog Scrappy, who helps him avoid trouble and ultimately, helps the Tramp achieve a happy ending with his love.
The scene in the film where the Tramp hides the dog in his pants, only to have its tail stick out of his backside and wag, is one of my favorite Chaplin bits of all-time.
While I love most of Chaplin’s work, A Dog’s Life had me laughing pretty much from start to finish. And frankly, I love the short Chaplin pictures for their simplicity and ability to quickly get into the groove and maintain it.
A Dog’s Life ranks up there as one of the best Chaplin pictures for me. If you want a real treat, check out a compilation film called The Chaplin Revue, which features this and a few other shorts edited into a feature length presentation.