So, writing my blogathon post last minute again, I see? Highly irresponsible of me, is it not? Well, I guess I’ll just have to deal with it.
Greetings, and welcome to the Silent Cinema Blogathon! My part in this affair is to examine (as well as I can) the career of Charlie Chaplin, silent silver screen icon, focusing largely on his downfall due to the Red Scare. So, put on your fedora, straighten your tie, and amp your Communism paranoia up to 11, because we’re takin’ a trip back to the 50’s!
Charlie Chaplin, Beloved Actor, Commie Sympathizer
Charlie Chaplin is perhaps the quintessential silent film actor, the layman’s reference point for silent film. Across his more than 50-year-long career, from his very first film, Making a Living until his final screen appearance in A Countess from Hong Kong, Chaplin never failed to entertain. Perhaps the only silent film artist that a “man on the street” would recognize, if only for the infamous Hitler ‘stache.
Of course Chaplin acted on the resemblance, creating the brilliant, poignant film, The Great Dictator, a brilliant satire of Adolf Hitler and his fascist governmental policies, 5 years before America entered the war. It also features one of cinema’s great speeches up there with Aragorn’s “But it is not this day,” Bill Pulman’s “Independence Day,” William Wallace’s “Freedom,” etc. Because I’m not heartless, here’s the speech in its entirety.
Pretty great, am I right? It was also included in this, one of my favorite compilations:
Pretty awesome. Anyways, where were we? Oh, yeah.
Chaplin was ridin’ high on his fame, until it all came crashin’ down. A series of paternity suits resulting in an alleged violation of the Mann Act. He was facing 23 years in jail, though he was eventually acquitted. The controversy increased when he married Oona O’Neill, a woman a third his age. This controversy led to a long period of inactivity for Chaplin in film. His next film, Monsieur Verdox, was a black comedy about the downfalls of capitalism. Of course, this was the late 40’s, so there was soon screamings of “Commie!,” “better dead than red,” etc. There was a mass media explosion as Chaplin refused to remain quiet on the issue, protesting the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He eventually left the country to attend the premiere of his next film, Limelight, an autobiographical picture, and was denied re-entry to the United States. Limelight was heavily boycotted in the U.S., because of all the anti-Communism and such. Perhaps the most dramatic fall from stardom in American history, it’s hard to imagine anything so drastic in today’s world.
Chaplin enjoyed a successful career in Europe, and, eventually, Americans forgave his political affiliations, with him receiving an honorary Oscar from the Academy in 1972. It was the first time Chaplin had been on U.S. soil in 20 years.
One would have to be a fool to deny the contributions of Charlie Chaplin to cinematic history. He was one of the first true film stars, a recognizable icon, a man without which we wouldn’t have such classics as The Kid, City Lights, and The Great Dictator. And a man without whom we would certainly not have this gif:
Let us all raise a toast to celebrate the wonderful, the enigmatic, the legendary Mr. Chaplin.
Thanks a lot for reading this diversion! I know that I promised a Bond post, but, how about we make a deal? I will review Spectre within a week of its release if you forgive my transgressions. Okay? Okay.
But, anyways, I’ll see you next week with a review of 1958’s The Blob. Bye!