Movie Review – Limelight (1952)

Director : Charles Chaplin
Year Of Release :   1952
Principal Cast :  Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Nigel Bruce, Buster Keaton, Sydney Earl Chaplin, Norman Lloyd, Andre Eglevsky, Marjorie Bennett, Wheeler Dryden, Melissa Hayden. (Uncredited: Geraldine Chaplin, Josephine Chaplin, Charles Chaplin Jr, Michael Chaplin, Oona O’Neill)
Approx Running Time :  137 Minutes
Synopsis:   A fading comedian and a suicidal ballet dancer must look to each other to find meaning and hope in their lives.

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 Encapsulating the duopoly of Hollywood’s fascination with ageing, Limelight is a contrast in focus. Charlie Chaplin was entering the latter stages of his career, while co-star Claire Bloom gave one of the all-time great major film debuts; Chaplin’s American career was cut off following accusations of Communist sympathies during the Red Scare, which resulted in him being banned from re-entering the United States, and Bloom’s post-Limelight career was a blossom of stardom and celebrity. The film is one of Chaplin’s rare “serious” films, largely bereft of the laughs and the comedic tones of his silent films and instead giving us an actor working hard to establish a more mature style, and so viewers should approach Limelight with that in mind.

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Movie Review – City Lights (1931)

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Director :  Charlie Chaplin
Year Of Release :   1931
Principal Cast :   Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Al Ernest Garcia, Hank Mann.
Approx Running Time :   97 Minutes
Synopsis:   With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.

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For an all-to-brief period in Hollywood’s history, not long after The Jazz Singer marked the debut of “talkies” in the medium, cinema lurched forward with the burgeoning technology and left many industry stars behind; those who embraced the talking picture found continued fame and fortune, whilst those who didn’t… struggled. Charlie Chaplin, the silent era’s biggest name and most profitable star, struggled with the advent of sound film to the point he even went on an 18-month holiday to think about things. City Lights was the first film he directed following the introduction of sound films, and his consternation arose from the fact that he wanted his eponymous Tramp character to remain voiceless. The idea that the Tramp’s voice would delineate him for a generation of fans was something Chaplin wanted to avoid, and concerned he’d be considered improvident for not embracing the newfangled technology, the filmmaker persisted with silent films until he unleashed his most poignant – The Great Dictator – to thunderous acclaim in the years to follow. Therefore, City Lights is one of those rare films to have been produced in the nascent sound era to remain a silent, albeit with sound cues provided by musical instruments.

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Movie Review – Circus, The (1928)

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Director :  Charlie Chaplin
Year Of Release :  1928
Principal Cast :  Charlie Chaplin, Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Harry Crocker, George Davis, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, John Rand, Steve Murphy.
Approx Running Time :   72 Minutes
Synopsis:  The Tramp finds work and the girl of his dreams at a circus.

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Under the big-top.

For a comedy, The Circus doesn’t start that funny. In fact, the film provides us with one of the least funny characters in a Chaplin film – the proprietor and ringmaster of the titular circus is an odious, physically violent, ill-tempered asshole who beats his own stepdaughter (no idea where the mother is) and continuously threatens his employees with redundancy. In spite of this, The Circus is deliriously inventive comedic fun, a tribute to the sideshow and a middling romance as well.

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Movie Review – Great Dictator, The

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Director :  Charlie Chaplin
Year Of Release :   1940
Principal Cast : Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Maurice Moscovich, Emma Dunn, Bernard Gorcey, Paul Weigel, Chester Conklin, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner, Henry Daniell, Billy Gilbert, Grace Hayle, Carter De Haven.
Approx Running Time :   125 Minutes
Synopsis:  Dictator Adenoid Hynkel tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution from Hynkel’s regime.

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The biggest middle finger to Hitler, ever

If there’s a modern cinematic approximation of Charlie Chaplin’s spot-on satire of Nazi Germany, it would be Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove. The Great Dictator is an absolute goldmine of satirical jabbery, a knife to the white underbelly of Hitler’s cruel and evil despotic rise and a rancorous ode to conformity and mindless fascism. Creatively, it’s a work of genius, a pointed advocate for democracy and freedom of speech and belief, and at its heart a poetic remonstration for love of humanity – something Hitler patently did not do. Filmed just following the outbreak of World War II, and driven by Chaplin’s disdain for what her saw in Hitler’s rise to prominence and the regime’s treatment of the Jews, The Great Dictator skewers the infamous leader as a nonsensical dilettante, a costumed dandy with limited intelligence surrounded by preposterously named yes-men.

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Movie Review – Modern Times

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Director :  Charlie Chaplin
Year Of Release :   1936
Principal Cast :  Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sandford, Chester Conklin, Hank Mann, Stanley Blystone, Allan Garcia, Dick Alexander, Cecil Reynolds, Myra McKinney, Murdoch McQuarrie, Wildred Lucas, Ed Le Sainte, Fred Malatesta, Sam Stein.
Approx Running Time :   97 Minutes
Synopsis:  The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman.

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Rise Of The Machines.

Ahead of its, ahem, time, Modern Times is one of those films so attuned to public disenfranchisement with increased industrialisation that it has become something of a cultural and cinematic touchstone in the years since. Made right in the middle of the Great Depression, Chaplin’s social and political statement with Modern Times would have surely fluffed a few feathers, the Rockefellers and so on coming in for scrutiny on the conditions of workers on their production lines. As a film, Modern Times was the very antithesis of modernism – cinema had just embraced the age of the “talkie”, while this film remained largely adherent to the silent movies Chaplin had stamped his legacy all over, so it was kinda against the grain (much like the film’s central character, Chaplin’s iconic Tramp); what Modern Times is, though, is a precise, electrifying diatribe against the rise of machines doing the work of men, and is perhaps as pertinent now, some 90 years after its début, if not moreso.

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Movie Review – Gold Rush, The

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Director :  Charlie Chaplin
Year Of Release :   1925
Principal Cast :  Charlie Chaplin, Georgia Hale, Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Malcolm Waite, Henry Bergman.
Approx Running Time :  101 Minutes
Synopsis:   A prospector (the Tramp) goes to the Klondike in search of gold and finds it and more.

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This review is based on the 1942 Academy Award-winning re-release, with added music and dialogue by Chaplin. The film was originally released silent in 1925. 

There’s gold in them thar’ hills!

The Gold Rush opens with one of the most incongruous images I think I’ve ever seen in a film: Chaplin’s Tramp, dressed in his traditional coat, cane and bowler hat, traipsing up the highest peak of the Klondike mountain range, seemingly oblivious to the bone-chilling cold the snow and ice depicted would surely engender. It’s a moment of utter hilarity, an oblivious tone-setting device Chaplin expertly interweaves into what becomes one of the great comedy films – silent or otherwise – of all time. Hyperbole doesn’t do justice to Chaplin’s work on The Gold Rush, as moment after moment of comedic genius is thrust upon the viewer – culminating in one of the most famous action scenes in all of silent movie history.

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Movie Review – Kid, The (1921)

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Director : Charlie Chaplin
Year Of Release :  1921
Principal Cast :  Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Edna Purviance, Carl Miller, (Uncredited): Tom Wilson, Henry Bergman, Charles Reisner, Raymond Lee, Lita Grey, Frank Campeau.
Approx Running Time :  53 Minutes (1971 Reissue)
Synopsis:   The Tramp cares for an abandoned child, but events put that relationship in jeopardy.

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A genuine, bona-fide classic.

Hard as it is to believe, but The Kid marked the first feature director credit for Charlie Chaplin, then one of Hollywood’s biggest silent film stars; since his acting début in 1914, and crossing multiple studios working primarily in short films, The Kid’s visual, comedic and dramatic brilliance stems from Chaplin’s innate sense of character and story. Featuring the début of soon-to-be child star Jackie Coogan (who would become a pop-culture icon in the 60’s as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family), The Kid sees Chaplin become a father-figure for an abandoned child he takes under his wing in their window replacement scam, while the child’s mother pines for him through the years, never knowing how close they are geographically. At times uproariously funny, at times moving in its paternal hand-wringing, The Kid rightly ascends the throne as one of – if not the – greatest silent films ever made.

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