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Chaplin in Review – PART VI – Modern Times

28 06 2011

Copyright 1936 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If memory serves me right, I am pretty certain that Modern Times was the first Chaplin feature I saw; I was probably about six or seven years old at the time.  It still holds a close place in my heart as my second favorite feature of Chaplin’s, partially perhaps to sentimentality, but in either case this is still an amazing film.

Modern Times is a narrative that focuses on some of the comedic elements of the times in the 1930s with the influx of industrialization and the Great Depression in full stride.  Chaplin appears as the Little Tramp in the beginning, working in a factory line.  Due to the stress and monotony of the job, he has a mental breakdown and is, subsequently, fired and sent to a hospital.  He is eventually released, but they insist he avoid excitement.  Upon release, a socialist march is at hand and someone drops a flag; ever the helper, the Little Tramp picks it up and runs after him.  With flag waving in hand, he is mistaken as the leader of the riot and thrown in jail.  He finds the contentment of jail comforting, but just as he is settling in, he is released on pardon.  Following a job at the shipyard in which he is fired, he meets a Gamine (Paulette Goddard) and her two sisters, who are stealing food to survive.  When a cop comes to arrest the Gamine, the Little Tramp tries to take the blame to no avail.  He then goes to a cafeteria, orders a lot of food and insists he has no money.  On the way to jail, the Gamine catches up with him and they escape, becoming close companions.  They settle into a small shack and the Tramp gets a job at a department store as a nightwatchman.  When burglars come on his first night, he gets caught up with the police and again hauled to jail.  Will he be able to catch up with his love again and find a decent, rewarding life, or will he have to settle on the contentment of his jail cell?

Following City Lights, Chaplin embarked on an 18 month world tour, leaving behind life in Hollywood for relaxation and travel.  Upon return, he met the beautiful, young Paulette Goddard and struck up a close relationship with her, eventually making her his third wife in 1936 in a secret ceremony.  In addition to her being cast as the Gamine in this film, she would also appear as the lead actress in his next feature, The Great Dictator.

Sound, by this time, was definitely in full force in the motion picture industry.  Hardly any filmmaker was still making silent pictures.  Because of this, Chaplin originally devised Modern Times to be a talkie, and even went so far as to write a script and shoot some test sequences.  However, in the end, the film was produced as a silent, but made use of sound effects, score and one talking scene in the beginning from the factory boss.  Like City Lights, Modern Times had an extensive shooting schedule that lasted over the course of a year from late 1934 to late 1935.

Upon release, Modern Times was another success for Chaplin, despite the fact that it was a silent film in a sound world.  To this day, the film is still celebrated as one of Chaplin’s biggest achievements and is the third and final film of Chaplin’s that appears on the AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All-Time List at number 77 (the other two being The Gold Rush and City Lights).

Chaplin, who himself at this time a multi-millionaire, but who came from an impoverished background, was very occupied with the problems of the social and economic background in the world during the 1930s.  Modern Times was his way of coming to terms with the situation from a comedic point and exemplifying some of the atrocities of the modern world tongue firmly in cheek.  As a final note, this was the last time that Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp appeared on screen, ending the cinematic presence of one of the most recognizable characters ever created.

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Chaplin in Review – PART III – The Gold Rush

22 06 2011

Copyright 1925 Chaplin Studios and United Artists

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Following the disappointment of his excursion into drama, Chaplin returned to comedy in 1925 with one of his most famous films, The Gold Rush.

The film’s story is fairly straight-forward.  Chaplin plays the Lone Prospector who has come to the Klondike to be part of the Gold Rush.  Due to horrendous weather, the prospector (Chaplin’s Little Tramp), finds himself stranded in a small cabin belonging to fugitive Black Larson (Tom Murray).  Just when he thinks he is going to die by the fugitive’s hands, Big Jim McKay (Mark Swain) comes and saves the lone prospector.  The Black Larson is sent to look for food as starvation nearly takes their lives.  Some of the mishaps of hunger and cold are portrayed at this point in some brilliantly funny scenes including Chaplin seeing one of his fellow occupants as a large chicken, the famous dinner roll scene, in which Chaplin performs the roll dance, and his cooking and eating of his own leather shoe.  However, finally, their hunger is spared when a bear makes way to the cabin and is killed for food.  It is also to be known that Big Jim McKay has a hidden mine that will make him rich, that he insists he will go to when they are able to leave the cabin.  When the storm ends, the men leave the cabin and McKay departs for his hidden mine, only to find that the Black Larson has hold of his property.  The Black Larson and Big Jim fight it out yet again, the Larson this time hitting McKay in the head with a shovel causing temporary amnesia.  Following the battle, the Larson falls to his death in an avalanche.  The Lonely Prospector make his way to the nearest town, down on his luck as always.  He comes to a saloon where he sees Georgia (Georgia Hale), Queen of the Dancehall girls.  He becomes immediately infatuated with her and begins vying for her love.  During his pining for Georgia, Big Jim McKay makes his way in with just enough memory returned to recognize the Lonely Prospector.  Can Chaplin’s character help Big Jim find his hidden mine and fortune?  With the Lone Prospector get the girl of his dream, the beautiful Georgia?  Without spoiling the film, you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out.

Originally, planned to be shot in northern California on location, the film was ultimately shot at Chaplin Studios.  The remaining opening sequence from the brutal shoot in Truckee, Calif. is all that remained in the final film of the time the company spent shooting in the real Yukon.  Originally, Chaplin had cast the young angel actress from The Kid in the lead role, 16-year-old Lita Grey.  During filming, Chaplin and Grey fell in love and married in November 1924; Chaplin was 35 at this time, Grey, again, only 16.  Following their marriage and her subsequent pregnancy, Chaplin was forced to replace Grey with actress Georgia Hale for the role of the dancehall girl.  Unfortunately, the marriage between Grey and Chaplin was a difficult one and one that would, in the end, cost Chaplin dearly.  At the time they finally divorced in 1927, she received the largest matrimonial settlement in history to that date, which amounted to $825,000 (on top of nearly a million in court costs).  This, topped with a federal tax dispute around the same time, supposedly is what caused Chaplin’s hair to turn white at the young age of 38.

The replacement of Grey with Hale lead to a relationship between Chaplin and Hale that continued through the duration of filming and during Grey and Chaplin’s marriage.  Upon release, The Gold Rush was a major success and made a lot of money at the box office.  Many of Chaplin’s scenes mentioned earlier, like the roll dance, are some of his most famous moments.  Furthermore, this was long said to be Chaplin’s own personal favorite film that he made during his nearly 60 year career in motion pictures.





Chaplin in Review – PART II – A Woman in Paris

21 06 2011

Copyright 1923 Charlie Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Continuing our review series through the feature films of Charlie Chaplin we come to what, I would say at least, is probably his least well-known feature, 1923’s A Woman in Paris.  Outside of not being as well known, this film holds another distinction: it was a serious drama.  Not only that, but Chaplin only took the writer/director/producer positions and only appeared, very briefly, as a porter with no lines.

Chaplin was famous for helping boost the careers of his various love interests through the years, as evidence will show in the films to come.  However, of all his romances, he probably gave Edna Purviance the best role, because this film had her as the leading actress without being a supporting character to Chaplin.  Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, the film didn’t propel Purviance to the level of stardom originally hoped, though it did end up helping Adolphe Menjou’s career to a degree.

The film is a melodrama that focuses on Purviance’s character of Marie St. Clair.  Her and her young boyfriend, aspiring artist Jean (Carl Miller), are planning to elope.  The night before their plans to move to Paris for marriage, Marie climbs down from her window to meet Jean in the courtyard.  When Marie’s father sees this through the window, he disowns her and kicks her from the house insisting that, “Maybe he will give you a room for the night!”  Marie follows Jean to his house, but finds that his parents aren’t happy about the arrangement either.  With nowhere to go, she decides to head for Paris early, Jean promising to follow her the next day.  However, when he gets back inside his home, he finds his father has died.  Because of this, he doesn’t make it to Paris as scheduled.  Time goes by and Marie becomes a mistress to the wealthy Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou).  One night, by chance occurrence after a party, Marie wanders into the wrong room and finds Jean, who now lives in Paris with his mother.  Marie asks Jean to paint her portrait in his studio.  During their meetings for the portrait, Marie finds out about Jean’s father’s death and they begin to rekindle their romance.  Without spoiling the ending, I will leave it at, just as things look good for the young couple, more effects of fate set in.

Compared to Chaplin’s comedies, this film was not nearly as well-received as most of his other work from the same era.  Like many comedy directors, it is sometimes hard for an audience to accept them with drama.  However, if you look at the melodramas being produced by other directors of the same time, this film actually works quite well and is better than many of its competitors.  Woody Allen is a similar artist who seems to fall into this paradox.  For years he has tried to make dramatic films interspersed with his comedies and, almost always, his dramas don’t fair as well as his comedies; except, perhaps, with Match Point.

Chaplin never made another film that was solely a drama.  In the 1970s, when he was in the process of recording scores for many of his silent films, he wrote and recorded a score to accompany this piece.  This would also mark the last time that Chaplin worked with Purviance as a leading lady.  However, his care for her continued for many years; supposedly, long after using her in any pictures, Chaplin kept her on the studio payroll to keep up her livelihood.








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