His Trysting Place
So there you have Charlie and Mabel and Ambrose and that girl from Ambrose’s First Falsehood in a pretty Roman farrago of a vaudeville bit whose nexus between lovers and parents is the overcoat worn and switched, the overcoat heavy with meaning, the bespoke overcoat.
The Face on the Bar Room Floor
This is Hugh Antoine D’Arcy’s rather dry and droll parody of Poe, “The Face Upon the Floor”, handled in the manner of Mark Twain’s poetic satires (such as “The Aged Pilot Man” in Roughing It), or Lewis Carroll’s, and features extremely funny gagwork (e.g., the painter, knocked down, tumbles and lands in perfect drawing position).
The Champion is the original of a long line of variegated material along the same theme through The Three Stooges (note the presence here of Bud Jamison as “The Champion”) and Abbott & Costello, with its beautiful analysis of good sportsmanship in the squared circle.
Chaplin’s little creation fends off vicious hoboes and is accidentally wounded by the farmer, whose daughter tends him. Now comes the surreal moment.
Though he’s an urbanite and no farmhand, he’s found a home. The girl’s paramour returns in a Panama hat, the tramp toddles off.
A most charming, lilting thing that looks to have been done in Echo Park, perhaps, anyway out of doors, and manages to be in two reels a very distant precursor of Luis Buńuel’s Cet obscur objet du désir somehow or other.
His New Job
One of the first of many inside views of the Hollywood studio system, featuring Bud Jamison as an actor (he later played a studio executive for The Three Stooges), and Gloria Swanson; noteworthy for a rare and beautiful dolly among other things.
The Count is somewhat lesser-known among Chaplin’s Mutual films, but it does much to remedy a rather confused view of him as a brilliant if eccentric fish out of water away from vaudeville, being a very brilliant conception for cinema of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, or something very similar.
The War to End All Wars. “Put those feet in.”
Truffaut identifies a consequential line of influence through Renoir’s Tire au flanc to Vigo’s Zéro de Conduite, which makes Chaplin the father of If....
Add The Great Dictator and To Be or Not to Be.
Variety, “it says that Charlie Chaplin is a great film comedian.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “now provides precious little to laugh at.”
A Woman of Paris
A Drama of Fate
Einstein asks what public adulation means, Chaplin tells him it means nothing at all, A Woman of Paris is the reason.
Chaplin strides among the foremost of directors with this drama, Lubitsch took up the note (as Michael Powell observed) in The Marriage Circle, yet the box-office failure of Chaplin’s film obliged him to find a solution definitely achieved in A Countess from Hong Kong.
The extreme laconicism of its cruel, bitter irony puts A Woman of Paris in a class by itself but for Stroheim, and at least partly accounts for its running time of an hour and a quarter. Nothing is ever explained in it, hence the three quarters of an hour spent elsewhere, at some other business. Conclusions are drawn from the material itself, the subtitle is A Drama of Fate. Boy and girl plan to elope against their parents’ wishes, his father dies that very night, she goes on to Paris and becomes the mistress of a wealthy speculator. A year later, still in mourning, the boy is an artist ensconced in Paris with his mother. Boy and girl meet, decide to marry, his mother prevails upon him to cancel the engagement. After a brief tussle with the speculator, the boy kills himself, the girl returns to the country and takes in children. The speculator passes her on the road in a fast open car, going the other way.
The plot elements thus described are without elucidation, Cocteau’s Les Parents terribles is not more fateful. Rather, there is the chafing dish that fills the screen with hot champagne and truffles served by Henry Bergman to speculator (Adolphe Menjou) and girl (Edna Purviance), while a hungry gigolo looks on over a spoonful of clear soup the same as his mistress’s.
Many of the scenes were described admiringly by critics even at the time, and by Powell in subsequent years from the memory of a single viewing, such as the comical breakup of the speculator and the girl, who throws a pearl necklace into the street and fetches it from a clochard, to gales of laughter from her lover. “You don’t love me anymore,” is all she says on the telephone to reunite them after the boy is persuaded to forgo her, and this is one of the fine points of an extremely fine screenplay.
The final break is depicted in a few seconds. The boy (Carl Miller) is dead, she sits in the background, the speculator in the foreground slams down the telephone, unable to reach his party.
Chaplin’s score, his last studio work, is the polishing touch.
The Gold Rush
The three movements are under the sign of Abraham, Samson, and Grace, respectively. The chicken hallucination is saved by a bear, Jack at the dance hall is quelled by power from above after a hefty blow to a pillar or post, Black Larsen’s cabin is cast off to retrieve the claim and the Lone Prospector on the steamship tumbles into steerage to raise Georgia.
This outfield structure is matched by infield gags that are pure surrealism, and still a survey does not exhaust the intricacy of this cognate masterpiece to A Woman of Paris. Hank Curtis’s mule at the door, the Lone Prospector’s burning foot (he has eaten the boot) igniting a lady’s seat, these are the Breton and Dali of the Klondike.
We must mention only the bear in the first scene after the prologue, who comes and goes, a later source of nutrition blithely ignored by the Lone Prospector as he heads through the mountain pass toward a fateful meeting with Big Jim McKay at the cabin of Black Larsen in “regions of ice and snow”.
The influence of the film is certainly immeasurable, yet one would wish to cite Peter R. Hunt’s Death Hunt, Pollack’s Jeremiah Johnson, Collinson’s The Italian Job, and Hyams’ Timecop (that foot jocularly chucking Big Jim’s cheek).
Chaplin’s 1942 sound version, though beyond price in itself, is not to be preferred to the 96-minute original screened at the correct speed.
A succinct version of themes further treated in City Lights, finally in Limelight (which is the best analysis and critique of The Circus).
City Lights picks up the ending of The Circus (Chaplin alone in the ring) to set up the long theme of Limelight that concludes it onstage in a show of mastery overcoming the terrible obstacle of an obtuse accompanist.
The attempted suicide is famously parodied in Clive Donner’s What’s New Pussycat?.
“Vienna Doctor Has Cure for Blindness”, says the headline. In Limelight, the ballerina is hysterical.
The drunken millionaire is played by Chaplin himself in The Idle Class, shaken with grief and a martini when his wife leaves.
By way of Saboteur, one arrives at North by Northwest (the red protest march behind Chaplin becomes the crop-dusting plane behind Grant), an important critique of the factory worker’s character, he would rather stay in jail.
There is a strange dislocation in the gags and sequences and overall lines of Chaplin’s film. The gamin’s life is bounded by the death of her father in an unemployment fracas, she flees the juvenile officers and is later picked up by them for vagrancy at her place of employment.
These are the only two characters, as stated in the opening credits against a clock nearing six.
Fellini always remembers the singing waiter and the final scene (through Ginger e Fred). Certainly Orwell got his two-way screens from the micro-management at Electro Steel Corp.
Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 adds the impossibility of a future society arrived at by various means (among them Vidor’s Our Daily Bread).
The score was noticed even at the time as especially impressive, whatever could be heard of it during the continual gales of laughter reported.
A bureaucratic misunderstanding almost ensnares the gamin, there are no witnesses save the camera to the factory worker’s continual plight, everyone is looking the other way when he inadvertently launches a brickbat or dives headfirst into a surprisingly shallow lagoon (though when he sends a ship in timbers down the ways, the other workmen turn and stare).
Everything is seen, however, at the factory in the famous opening sequence, he is treated kindly, an ambulance carries him away for a rest cure.
The Great Dictator
No-one knows better than this writer how difficult it is to write really useful film criticism, and the lot of the journalist is not to be envied in this field. Nevertheless, and with the gravest reservations set against the damage done, it is necessary to point out that glory did not accrue to Graham Greene (among, be it said, a number of others) for mistaking the final speech as an egregious appeal to his better instincts, rather than the cumulative dramatic point of the whole film.
A film whose visible influence extends to Which Way to the Front? and Moon Over Parador.
The gags of which this film is composed are refined to a degree beyond the scope of plain comprehension, they are ornamented with truculent jokes like Adenoid Hynkel the Phooey of Tomainia, strictly for ballast.
The opening sequence has a continual track-and-dissolve over trenches and gunpieces, they are not of interest, ending on Big Bertha, which aims and fires a huge shell at Notre Dame but destroys an outhouse yards away from the firing line. A second shell just drops from the barrel, limply, with a puff of smoke.
The two barber-shop gags are contrasted with the Phooey demolishing a banana, the Jewish barber shaves a man in time to Brahms on the radio, later he finishes a job by polishing a bald man’s head recalling a certain Schoenberg brettl-lied.
Seen rightly, the global ballet and the Hynkel-Napaloni duel for supremacy in a pair of palace barber-chairs are simply gags like the rest, all of them astute and inspired.
Chaplin attacks Hitler more thoroughly than anyone, which is why his caricature is the most authentic portrayal.
The famous speech at the end is one of the greatest performances in cinema, and specifically extends a dramatic gift from The Kid and The Circus and City Lights through Chaplin’s last and greatest film, A Countess from Hong Kong. A seemingly incongruous phrase, “to do away with national barriers”, harks back to the continuation of the opening sequence, the barber as soldier prepares to lob a grenade that falls down his sleeve instead, he has to remove his uniform tunic to find it, then he advances with fixed bayonet into the fog of war and emerges amongst doughboys similarly advancing. “Excuse me,” he says, dashing away.
Osterlich is about to be annexed by Tomainia or Bacteria (Napaloni). There, Hannah in exile hears this speech on the radio, broadcast from a gigantesque rally where the barber is thought to be the Phooey (who has been arrested as the barber, they share the same mustache). Amid rolling hills planted with grapevines, Hannah lies prostrate, the barber at the seat of Tomainian power exhorts her to “lift up your head”.
The Depression effaces his position of bank teller, his young son and crippled wife depend on him, he murders women for their money.
They are a henhouse of scattered wives for whom he is several men. He plays the market on margin, caught short he plies one bride of circumstance with an impending economic collapse, she must withdraw her money from the bank.
His sea wife puts her money in phony diamonds and oceanic fuel schemes. A poor girl who tends her invalided soldier husband escapes his murder plan. These two, the extravagant madwoman and the pious gamine, alone resist him, and the latter winds up rich, married to a weapons mogul. Verdoux surrenders, compliant but unswayed, and is last seen going to the guillotine.
The film was vituperated.
Chaplin’s sharp comic points are every bit as instantaneous as in The Great Dictator, occurring very rapidly and at once gone, so that they have gone unnoticed by many if not all in the critical press. They are fewer, more widely spaced than before, this technique is more assured in a way, more resigned perhaps. Verdoux dies like a Shakespeare villain, quite reconciled to the world’s hypocrisy.
It’s easy enough to see The Circus and City Lights in Limelight, and that is enough to make you aware that it is the definitive late masterwork of Chaplin’s career, insofar as it dilates upon and gives the fullest possible expression to a continuous strand of thematic invention.
Critics, from the first, have found it hard to see at all.
Bosley Crowther: “Limelight is not a great film. It is a genial and tender entertainment and a display of audacity and pride.”
Pauline Kael: “His exhortations about life, courage, consciousness and ‘truth’ are set in a self-pitying, self-glorifying story.”
The New Yorker: “Surely the richest hunk of self-gratification since Huck and Tom attended their own funeral.”
The duet with Keaton is commonly understood in a similar vein, rather than seen as what it is, a sketch about a master violinist whose accompanist cannot keep up with him.
Fellini’s biography is so famously vague because he was born in so many places, at the end of The Circus, for example, or among the courtesans in the Empire Theatre lobby of Limelight.
Osborne’s play The Entertainer is a significant variation (also as Richardson’s film), and there is a touch of the theme in Nabokov’s novel Look at the Harlequins! (as the Rex theme of The Circus figures among the short stories).
Chaplin acknowledges a relation in Calvero’s greeting to Thereza, “Cyrano de Bergerac!” Pygmalion bears a certain resemblance (also as My Fair Lady).
A most elegant reading of Limelight, notably including its secondary themes of prostitution and high art, is given by Ozu in Floating Weeds.
A King in New York
“Maybe the worst film ever made by a celebrated film artist,” said The New Yorker half-heartedly in 1977, than which no greater absurdity was ever published until Stanley Kauffman positively shat upon it and ‘Alliwell cleansed his bum with it and Time Out sent it out the gargoyle down Thames, where Englishmen swam in it and drank it in and grew big and strong and hairy-chested on the perfect masterpiece it is.
The funniest goddamn satire of twentieth-century America lights finally on a revival of an old favorite, the witch hunt.
After the “modern inconvenience” of a revolution, King Shahdov takes refuge in America. The prime minister absconds with the treasury, the loveless queen is ready for divorce, a Bathsheba in the adjoining hotel room leads him to a society maven’s dinner party where a hidden TV camera makes him an American celebrity much in demand for promotional endorsements.
The song parodies and movie send-ups can’t be beat, and generally the picture of New York at its most brilliant and Antipodean is unstoppable, but then it takes in its sights the vociferous lad in a progressive school where Shahdov pays a visit. Congress is investigating un-Americans like the lad’s parents, here the game on the playground has simply gotten out of hand.
A Countess from Hong Kong
All of Chaplin’s later films, from first to last, were political martyrs, this more than A King in New York, even. It is the crown of a lifetime spent in the cinema and the absolute perfection of the directorial skills he had really begun to meld in Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight, as well as being one of the most markedly characteristic films of that period, and the only one he ever made in color.
The title suggests what properly is an answer to his critics following on A King in New York. The charge, even in Congress, was that the fellow was a Communist. Chaplin’s last and greatest film has elements in common with Ford’s 7 Women, Wellman’s Blood Alley, and perhaps Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (or The Shanghai Gesture). Cinematically speaking, he is on the side of the perfect film here, no other film is constructed so perfectly, so that no matter where in its two-hour running time (the current print is grievously shortened) one takes an analytical look, the perfect structure is encountered whole and entire.
Having forgotten A Woman of Paris, Variety dimly observed, with grim deprecation, a style from the Thirties, which would be nonetheless not Chaplin’s at all (cf. Modern Times) but that of an RKO comedy with Eric Blore. The situation is in the present, Patrick Cargill has the latter role. The leading man is an American diplomat on an ocean voyage after a bout of flu, the leading lady is a White Russian countess by birth, working in a Hong Kong dance hall.
The rhythmic comic inventions of irrepressible humor that sharply punctuate The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux in sublimity blossom into the barroom scene aboard ship and the visit to Miss Gaulswallow (Margaret Rutherford), for whom the countess is mistaken, among many other scenes in which photography, scenic deployment and Chaplin’s score create the most detailed understanding.
Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren have the main roles, with Tippi Hedren as his posh wife and Sydney Chaplin his friend and right-hand man.