While Mr. Popper’s Penguins is by no means a good movie in my opinion, its one redeeming quality may be that it could introduce modern moviegoers to the works of Charlie Chaplin. What is perhaps more impressive than the fact that Chaplin directed, acted, wrote, and pretty much did everything in producing his films is that when film was being destroyed for its Nitrogen content, he made sure that his were not recycled, thus preserving his spot in cinema history. It is unfortunate that many films were lost during this era due to the recycling of film, but that makes what has survived that much more culturally important to protect. Nonetheless, with three of his films appearing on the America’s Film Institute top 100 list (in both iterations of the list), it is do doubt that Charlie Chaplin truly founded the comedy film genre that has evolved and changed over the years to what it is today. This week’s two films highlight some great examples of Chaplin’s career.
The Gold Rush
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 95 minutes / 1.58 hours
Part of Chaplin’s charm came from his “Tramp” character, which starred in thirteen of his 80+ films. Not only was the trademark hat, mustache and cane part of the look, but the mannerisms of the “down and out, but not completely down and out” character made Chaplin an iconic player in the silent comedy genre. If you want to know where slapstick comedy came from, this is one of its origins (based in Vaudevillian stage acts). The twitch of the nose, constant double takes and a waddling walk all contributed to the comedy that is Chaplin’s “Tramp”. And while City Lights might be the most romantic of Chaplin’s best, The Gold Rush certainly has the most action of all the “Tramp” films. I mean, when you have to chase after your own house, there’s certainly a lot of action involved.
With a small cast, The Gold Rush is still complex and full of comedy. Chaplin’s Tramp has traveled up to the Yukon to find his fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. Due to a blizzard, the Tramp is trapped in a cabin with a prospector and a fugitive. When the weather clears, the Tramp heads into town while the prospector and the fugitive fight for the claim that the prospector had found before becoming trapped in the storm. While in town, the Tramp falls in love with a saloon girl, whose flirting was actually directed at someone else (despite a clever dance with dinner rolls). And yet, the Tramp’s past comes back when the prospector arrives in town with a case of amnesia. He enlists the assistance of the Tramp to help him find his claim. Will the Tramp give up prospecting to pursue the saloon girl, or will he follow his amnesiac friend back into the wintry wilderness?
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 87 minutes / 1.45 hours
As was the case with many silent-era actors, the advent of sound affected many of them. They had a good thing going, but then everyone became interested in the “talkies”, and ticket sales dried up. Considering that many who made films in Hollywood’s infancy were essentially “jacks of all trades”, the loss in revenue was severe. And yet, even with The Great Depression happening at the same time, there were some who chose to continue on with what they were good at, despite the resistance to silent films. Charlie Chaplin had gained his fame in the silent-era, and he was one of the fortunate ones who could ride that fame into the era of sound. Modern Times was the last of his silent films and was a retaliation to the technology that had changed the film landscape.
Using some dialogue and sound effects, Modern Times wasn’t completely silent, but the majority of it was, which just emphasized the parts that did use sound. Chaplin’s “Tramp” plays a factory worker who goes mad and causes chaos in the factory where he works. After he gets out of the insane asylum he’s thrown in jail upon suspicion of being a communist. In an unintended turn of events, he gets out of jail, only to want to end up back in it for the simple fact that life on the outside is difficult. Despite his best efforts, he keeps failing at being arrested, but does eventually end up back behind bars. Fortunately, when he gets out again, he finds work, first at a factory, then at a cafe. Still, the Tramp’s life is uncertain as he walks into the sunrise of a new day.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Chaplin triumphs
Bacon #: 2 (The Gentleman Trap / Walter Matthau -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)