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INTRODUCTION TO FILM

CHAPLIN MODERN TIMES


NAME

CLASS PERIOD _____________

BASED ON INFORMATION FROM THE TEXT:


1.

WHAT STRUGGLE DOES THE FILM, MODERN TIMES PROCLAIM?

2.

WHAT THOUGHTS DID THE FILM, MODERN TIMES SHOW?


A.
B.
C.

3.

IN WHAT SCENES IS THE TRAMP CHARACTER PRESENTED?


A.
B.

4.

WHAT OTHER ROLES DOES CHAPLIN PLAY IN THE FILM, MODERN


TIMES?
A.
B.
C.
D.

5.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN CHAPLIN SLACKS OFF OR MAKES ANY


GESTURE?

6.

WHAT DOES CHAPLIN FIND WHEN HE IS RELEASED FROM


PRISON?

7.

HOW DOES CHAPLIN GET ARRESTED?

8.

WHAT THOUGHTS DID PEOPLE HAVE THAT WERE SHOWN IN THE


FILM?

9.

WHAT DOES THE CITY SCENE IN THE FILM, MODERN TIMES


SHOW?

10.

WHAT DOES THE DEPARTMENT STORE SCENE IN THE FILM,


MODERN TIMES SHOW?

11.

WHAT IMPORTANT IDEOLOGICAL STANCE ABOVE OTHERS DID


CHAPLIN REPRESENT IN HIS FILM, MODERN TIMES?

12.

WHAT DOES CHAPLIN SAY ABOUT SILENT COMEDY?

13.

WHAT DID CHAPLIN CALL THE MARX BROTHERS?

14.

HOW DOES THE FEEDING MACHINE OPERATE?

15.

HOW DOES BARTHES REFER TO WINE AND THE FRENCH


WORKER?

16.

ALTHOUGH MACHINES MAY NOT ENNOBLE CHARLIE, WHAT DO


THEY DO TO THE BOSS?

17.

WHAT FILM IS CHAPLINS LAST TIME ON THE SCREEN?

18.

WHAT DID LIBERAL COMMENTATOR CHARMION VON WIEGAND


SAY ABOUT MODERN TIMES?

19.

ACCORDING TO THE AUTHOR, WHAT WAS THE REALITY OF THE


EARLY 20TH CENTURY?

20.

WHAT INVENTION MADE ITS COMMERCIAL DEBUT IN 1920?

21.

WHEN SOUND CAME TO FILMS, FROM WHAT SONG DID CHAPLIN


GAIN WIDESPREAD RECOGNITION FROM MODERN TIMES?

Film - Charlie Chaplins Modern Times


The film proclaims the struggle against the dehumanization of proletarian man
by the machine and the Industrial Age (Chaplins Modern Times). It shows the thoughts
that people had during the time of not participating in the benefits of industrialization, the
fear that they would be turned into machines, the desperation of poor people during the
depression, and the way technology made possible more products.
Modern Times is a film written, directed, and produced by Charlie Chaplin in
1936 during the Great Depression. The tramp character, played by Chaplin himself, is
presented within scenes of a factory and caf. The movie was Chaplins last appearance
and the last full-length silent film ever made. The film proclaims the struggle against
the dehumanization of proletarian man by the machine and the Industrial Age (Chaplins
Modern Times). Machines began to take place of man, which sparked the advances of
the Industrial Age.
Chaplin plays an assembly-line factory worker where he is literally fed by a
machine and then becomes the food in the cogs and gears of another machine. In
addition, he plays other roles: a shipyard worker, night watchman, singing waiter and an
occupant in jail. The film Modern Times is a story of industry. The film opens with
industrial workers in a factory and the manager/president of the factory viewing a TV
screen where he demands to hurry the production line. A conveyor belt scene is shown
where the tramps job is to tighten up bolts on machine parts. He works as a factory
worker and has to perform his movements and tasks with clocklike tempo and precision
(Modern Times). The tramp character holds wrenches in his hands while tightening nuts
on steel plates carried on the conveyor belt. At any time he slacks off or makes any
gesture, he causes chaos for the other workers of the production line, and frantically
rushes to catch up to restore order (Modern Times). During a short break he cannot stop
his jerky, rhythmic movements of his nut-tightening (Modern Times). Later, the tramp
encounters a disastrous lunch where he is fed by a machine. He eventually goes crazy
and begins to tighten everything in sight including people; he becomes a nut himself.
The film continues as the tramp character settles in prison and hears of strikes and riots;
there is trouble with the unemployed. Later, he is released from prison and finds that life
outside prison is fraught with perils (Modern Times). The tramp is determined to go
back to jail where life there provided him with the modern comforts of home. He tries
different schemes to get re-arrested like telling the police that he stole bread. However,
he fails. He then tries another strategy where he enters a cafeteria and orders a large meal
that he cannot afford; he eats without paying. He succeeds and gets arrested for not
paying the tab for the meal as well as purchasing cigars.
The film shows peoples thoughts during that time. They thought of not
participating in the benefits of industrialization, and thought it to be harmful. The factory
scenes reflect the fear that workers felt about being turned into machines, and also that
the managers controlled the pace of the line and speeded it up. The city scene shows the
desperation of poor people during the depression. The department store scene shows how
consumer culture was growing but poor people felt left out of this new world; technology
made possible more products. The movie describes how technology was rapidly
developing and changing society as well as how the people viewed these changes.

Modern Times and the Question of Technology


Perhaps it was his status as a tramp, but for whatever
reason, the icon Charlie represented one important
ideological stance above others: a silent protest against
advancing technology. Chaplin stated when in the early
planning stages of Modern Times that "I am always
suspicious of a picture with a message," so Chaplin never
made a film in which he verbally indicted machines or
automation as intrinsically bad; Robinson pegs Times as
"an emotional response, always based on comedy, to the
circumstances of the times" (Robinson 1985: 458).
Specifically, most reviewers seem to agree that it was
angst over the transition to sound -- a technological
advancement that brought class to even the cheapest
studios that adopted it -- that brought out the more general
urge to combat the bogey of 'gizmos in positions of
authority'.
Chaplin felt deeply that sound would compromise the entertainment ideals toward which
he was working with the Tramp -- in fact, with film in general. "If Charlie's universality
was not to be compromised with a voice," Wes Gehring put it, "the character itself would
need to be retired" (Gehring 1983: 41). Of course, this need not happen, Chaplin figured
in the early days of sound, were the new medium only to become one way of making
films. "I regard it only as an addition, not as a substitute," he said. "Silent comedy is more
satisfactory entertainment for the masses than sound comedy . . . [which] I think is
transitional" (Kamin 1984: 100). Chaplin viewed silent film as the art form; now
modernity was reaching forward to oust his preeminence as other comedians like the
Marx Brothers (whom Chaplin called "frightening") became the new kings of the new art
form. It was Chaplin against a world which he viewed increasingly as being made up of
novelty-oriented robots.
Thus in Modern Times, a largely silent film
Chaplin released as late as 1936, Charlie and his
female counterpart, the Gamine, are "the only two
live spirits in a world of automatons," as "spiritual
escapees from a world in which [Chaplin] saw no
other hope" (Robinson 1985: 459). The film's
workers are likened to sheep in the opening shot,
and in one of the most famous sequences, Charlie
himself is caught in the cogs of a vicious machine and, later, feeds a meal to a poor devil
caught, perhaps forever, deep in the bowels of another metal monster. Historian Dan
Kamin emphasizes how human actors' voices are only heard over loudspeakers in
Modern Times; when characters speak to one another, their words occur on printed
subtitles in almost every case (a chorus of singing waiters, hardly integral to the plot,

accepted). The world of this film thus presents machines as most advanced; yet being
advanced in one way (having the power of speech) hardly cancels out the destructive
power machinery is given. When brought in for Charlie's slave-driving boss to inspect in
the film's opening minutes, a machine meant to feed workers while leaving their hands
free announces its functions by an associated LP record. The device's viciously
mechanical, repetitive quality, and its urge to present itself as superior, are emphasized by
how the recording points out no less than three times that the lunch hour can now be
eliminated from the workday.
The power of "progress," its advancement working to the
commoners' detriment, and its potential for out-of-control
mayhem are all crystallized very nicely. Charlie, the
pretentious tramp, is outiconified by an image-breaking
machine, more worshipped and more evolved than the
highest man (Charlie's nervous, sweating boss) and yet
more abusive and vulgar than the lowest ruffian: the
device feeds Charlie bolts which have accidentally been
left on its tray, thus forcing him to literally ingest progress
(my interpretation from summary in Kamin 1984: 114).
Machinery devours him by forcing him to devour its own excesses: it is only a short time
later that Charlie is, as has been noted, himself devoured by the machine age in the geary
maw of a huge construction device (ibid). Later, he is driven completely mad by his job
of tightening gears to the point where he becomes a human machine, unable to stop his
involuntary tweaking (with pliers) of anything knoblike.
What does all of this have to do with icon theory? The
answer, or the means to the answer, can be found in
Roland Barthes' analysis of wine. Barthes refers to how
wine ennobles the French worker by adding ease to
drudgery; it also has a sophisticated quality that raises him
above (for instance) countries where they "drink to get
drunk" (Barthes 1972: 59). Meanwhile, the intellectual
finds that the "beaujolais of the writer . . . will deliver him
from myths . . . will make him the equal of the proletarian" (1972: 58). In short, wine
behaves a double-edged sword, an icon that creates a common ground and shifts the
social order. Chaplin's use of machines is, in fact, quite similar in its style and its effects
(although, as the film's lumbering demonic contrivances never reappeared in such
capacity as in Times, they did not become recognized icons themselves). Machines may
not ennoble Charlie, but they bring the boss down to his level (the boss is seen as agitated
and exhausted by his mechanized life), they leave no one alone (just as the Tramp is
heckled by superiors' voices and images piped into the washroom, the management is
heckled by the feeding machine's insistence on its own usefulness). And while machines
are ennobling, they cause vulgarity by their malfunctions, masticating on workers. Like
Charlie before them, a figure whom varying classes identified with in his mature form,
these insidious devices are a great equalizer, but in a bleak manner. Beside them, Charlie
the icon seems more satisfying, the alternative and better choice to that which would
equalize by giving the rich and poor a diet of grommets, eating the worker and

symbolically consuming the freedom of the managerial class, and eliminating the lunch
hour, eliminating the lunch hour, eliminating the lunch hour.
Both Charlie and the machines, to paraphrase Barthes
again, "give . . . a foundation for a collective morality,
within which everything is redeemed" (1972: 59). What
choice would an audience take -- redemption as Charlie, a
humanistic icon (his creator aside), or as a machine, the
demon-Charlie with his bolt-tightening obsession? It is
not hard to guess. Wes Gehring calls the scene "a defeat
over Charlie to which no other, living antagonism has
come close" (Gehring 1983: 43). And yet Charlie, in the
end, loses out in the battle between icons. When we next
see him in The Great Dictator, it is his last time on the
screen: he has refined his ways such that he is no longer
officially the Tramp (most texts I follow call the character
the Barber, although identifying him as implicitly the
same Charlie). More importantly, he speaks -- while not an addition that, like some
critics, I view as detrimental or overly alienating to the character, it is a sign that Chaplin
could not withstand modernization forever. The difficulty he had in coming to terms with
the Machine Age as it most affected him -- challenging his silent film style at the core -finally fell in technology's favor (a point well-taken by IBM in its Charlie advertising
campaign of recent years).

Modern Times, for whatever it's worth, was seen as more political a
film than Chaplin's previous efforts; quite frankly, its
indictment of a segment of society made it that way. The New
York Daily News' Kate Cameron saw the film as straight
entertainment, but was of a minority; "more politically and
aesthetically . . . conservative" critics, notably, made up that
camp (Maland 1989: 155). Liberal commentators, such as the
New Theatre's Charmion von Wiegand, were quicker to see the
movie as "acutely [aware of] the changes which are occurring in
the body of our society . . ." Conservative viewers, stressing the
Tramp's humorous aspect, were quite telling in their emphasis
on this, for when The Great Dictator came about, they would
decide that there was more to worry over in Chaplin's ethic than
fear of machines. But that is another chapter in the life of the
icon. Filmmaking at the beginning of the twentieth century
was in its infancy. The techniques at that time could only show
people and objects as they were, with an occasional
photographic trick. As technology progressed, so did the effects
we saw on film. We no longer find it amazing that a star ship
can appear to rush through space at "warp speed". We see
whole cities demolished, knowing they are truly intact, and
accept this as the norm. So to envision people flocking to a
theater to see a movie that was entirely silent is a bit
incredulous to us now. But that was the reality of the early
twentieth century.
Films with sound did not appear until 1928. After all,
radio had just made its commercial debut on November 2,
1920, when KDKA in Pittsburgh made the announcement that
Warren Harding had been elected president. Radio was one of
the most popular developments of the twenties.
We've come so far, and yet one thing remains the same.
That is talent. Talent in any age is just as great. Our perception
of what talent is may be influenced by time and culture, but the
great geniuses never diminish, except in the public memory.
The previous century produced many greats in the arts. And yet
few would argue that Charles Chaplin was probably the greatest
of all.
For those who have no interest in what is perceived as
outdated, silent film has little attraction. This is unfortunate, as
it was the product of a day when true ability could not be faked.
There were no computer graphics to stun the audiences. The
photography was not nearly as good as today and the films
were in black and white. Sound had yet to be added. There was

just the playing of an organ by an employee of the theater.


More amazingly, Chaplin wrote his own scripts as well as
produced and directed his own work. He often did his own
editing. It was all up to him, and no sound or visual
phenomenon could help.
There was more. Chaplin proved, when sound came to
films, to be a prolific composer. Some of his music has gained
widespread recognition, such as "Smile", from Modern Times
and "This is my Song" from one of his lesser known films, A
Countess from Hong Kong. But the most beautiful is "Eternally",
the opening theme of Limelight. It became so widely known as
one of the great Chaplin compositions that it was played at
many of his professional appearances, including his Academy
Award acceptance of 1972.

Chaplin, Charlie (1889-1977)

Charlie, a native of London, was born in poverty on April 16,


1889 to music hall performers. He was a small child when he
got his first break by performing in place of his mother, who
was suffering from severe mental illness. Later, half-brother
Sydney got him work with the Karno Company. His early work in
the US was with Mack Sennet's Keystone Studio. Sennet was
famous for his slapstick comedies which ended in chases. With
no sound the visual had to be funny. And it was considered
humorous to do a pratfall or score a bulls eye with a "pie-inthe-face". Comedy required athleticism, but to be one of the
greats it required so much more. The greats of the era had
trademarks. For Chaplin it was his "Little Tramp". And in
addition, he was one of the first to use the camera for his
humor--staring into it and performing directly to the audience.
His childhood was filled with the worst kind of poverty-and it was this poverty from which he would develop his
identification with the "little person". He used the misery of that
childhood to create his own style, a combination of comedy and
melodrama known as "pathos". It hadn't occurred to many
comedians to pepper their hilarious performances with
scenes that would tug at the audience's heartstrings.
Charlie became the master and such films as The Gold
Rush, The Kid, and City Lights are considered to be
treasures for just that reason.
Charlie was a contemporary of some other greats who
continue to entertain us with the films they left behind. Buster
Keaton was a major comedian/filmmaker of the era. In Chaplin's
early years Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle was considered the most
popular of all. An artist who came to America with Chaplin in the
Karno Company was Stan Laurel. He went on to
form one the greatest comedy duos of all time
with Oliver Hardy. Talent abounded in the world
of silent comedy. With respect to those who
prefer the others, it can be said the competition
was fierce. But there was something different
about this small-statured man. His "Little Tramp"
struck a chord with audiences. And Chaplin was, without
question, the most multifaceted talent of his time.
Many of his biographies dwell on his work at Essanay,
Mutual, First National, and his joint formation of United Artists
with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford. But not enough is
written to describe and attempt to explain the later years of this
troubled genius. His eventual downfall is a biography unto itself!

It is the story of a man who, after achieving fame and fortune


against incredible odds, fell from the heights of public adoration
to become one of the most hated individuals in Hollywood. And
what makes the story more astounding is that Chaplin refused
to accept life at that level. After some years of relative obscurity
he was again recognized for the genius he was. It was not the
nature of this man to accept defeat. And it cannot be dismissed
that the story of Chaplin's life parallels the Little Tramp in so
many ways.

Too many considered his personal life and social views to be the
measure of the artist. A man who held liberal beliefs, he found
that this was not the "politically correct" thinking of the thirties
and forties. And it was especially dangerous in the early fifties
when a man named Joseph McCarthy turned a healthy concern
for national safety into a dangerous obsession. The fanaticism
of this one man and those who backed him in the Congress
caused the reputations and careers of many individuals to be
ruined. Such were the Hollywood Ten. Chaplin escaped being
linked to that ill-fated group, but he, too, fell victim to the witch
hunting of the McCarthyites.
We know today that the media has a strong effect on
public thinking. And Chaplin definitely used his films to make
social statements. But most of it was probably lost on the
people of the time. We see the messages now, and maybe it
struck close to home for some at the time. But these films were
more a vision of the future than anything else. Charlie could see
the depersonalization of industry (Modern Times) and the horror
of Hitler before the US even considered going to war (The Great
Dictator). He also saw the connection between mass murder
and the atomic bomb (Monsieur Verdoux). With the possible
exception of Modern Times these films take on a greater
significance when viewed with the twenty-twenty vision of
hindsight. Chaplin, in retrospect, seems to be less a social
activist than a prophet. His predictions were not noticed by the
general public. They were too deeply affected by the
Depression and War to see the messages.
But some did see the messages, and objected
vigorously! People like FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover believed
Chaplin to be a subversive at best, and a pedophile at worst!
Hoover and those like him sought to remove Chaplin's
messages from the public. So they did what the "powers that
were" did at that time, which was to investigate the
"dangerous" party's activities. And as is prone to happen when
activities are investigated, one tends to find what one expects.
Hence, if expecting to see immorality from a middle-aged man
who had always sought out the younger of the fairer sex-- and
one finds a young lady accusing said man to be the father of
her child--the outcome is predictable!
In the early forties, Chaplin was accused by Joan Barry of
fathering her baby. This ex-lover was young enough to have,
herself, been his child. A fury erupted! Chaplin hoped a new
technique--blood typing for paternity--would prove his

innocence. And indeed it did! However, the jury was not so sure
it trusted this new science. They found in favor of the mother
and Charlie paid child support for eighteen years.
It was during the early forties that Charlie met the
daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. Although he objected
strongly to her involvement with Chaplin, the marriage took
place on June 16,1943. Charlie, already the father of two sons,
went on to have eight children with Oona between 1944 and
1962. A time of domesticity was beginning, but there were more
problems ahead.
When Chaplin made Limelight in 1951, he placed five of
his children in the film. Charlie, Jr was a clown in the ballet
scene and Sydney, was Chaplin's male co-star. Geraldine,
Michael, and Josephine, appeared as street urchins. Some say
that Oona was also in the film (possibly as a stand-in for Claire
Bloom). Before leaving with his family for the premier of the
Limelight in London, Charlie's movements in regard to his
money and property reflected a sense of impending
homelessness--albeit an extravagant homelessness which could
house his family at the Savoy while they looked for a new home.
Before the Chaplins left for London aboard the Queen
Elizabeth, Chaplin made sure his papers were in order. He was
still a British subject and needed a re-entry visa to get back into
the US. Soon after they left port he received a telegram stating
that his re-entry permit had been revoked. He would only be
able to return after agreeing to answer extensive questions
about his personal life and political views. Chaplin was 63 and
tired of it all. He had a growing family and wished happiness for
them all. Chaplin decided on exile. So, in September of 1952,
the Chaplins became a European family. In 1953, during Oona's
pregnancy with their fifth child, Eugene, Chaplin purchased the
elegant Manoir de Ban on Lake Geneva outside Vevey,
Switzerland. There he lived in luxury for the rest of his years.
Chaplin often inserted elements of his life into his films.
Noteworthy are Limelight and The Kid. But A King in New York,
the story of a dethroned monarch who finds himself in exile
after a revolution, seems the most autobiographical.
Throughout the film Chaplin, as King Shadov,
encounters the culture of America in the midfifties, complete with television commercials,
plastic surgery, rock and roll, and un-American
activities committees. Particularly humorous is his

use of son Michael as young Ruppert, the son of accused


communists. The young Chaplin's oratory on passports is
scathingly funny to those familiar with Chaplin's run-in with the
US. It seems as though he used this film as a personal catharsis.
Many have criticized the film as too bitter and technically poor.
The latter is somewhat true. But bitterness is only perceived if
one does not see his use of comedy to deal with a deep hurt.
In 1962 Charlie received an honorary degree from Oxford
University. And in 1972, twenty years after he left the US,
Chaplin was invited back to receive a special Academy Award
for achievement. This was followed by a knighthood by Queen
Elizabeth II. His star was again on the rise!
But even the great among us, those we put on a
pedestal so high no one can reach them, eventually face their
own mortality. On Christmas Day in 1977 Charlie Chaplin left us.
Now, in the twenty-first century, more and more people are
falling in love with the Little Tramp. Young and old, they are
seeing the talent and genius of this incredible man. Who he was
and what he did is finally being put into perspective.
Did Chaplin really convince the movie-goers of his social
views? It is doubtful. In a generation plagued by World War I,
the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Great Depression, and
World War II the Little Tramp prevailed. He showed us how the
common man could rise above it all. And it was in this alone
that Chaplin made his biggest impact. It was a time when many
were poor and unemployed. This destitute yet proud little tramp
reminded so many of themselves. Chaplin, this man of wealth
and fame, had little influence on the political and social climate
of his time but he was persecuted for those just the same.
Some may choose to remember Chaplin as a man of
poor morals and questionable social views. But we who love him
remember him simply as the Little Tramp--a man who could be
knocked down over and over, and yet get up, dust himself off,
and waddle into the sunset. And this is also the story of Sir
Charles Chaplin. He was a genius, and yet a man of human
weakness. He started life in poverty. He rose to the heights of
fame and popularity and, like the Tramp, was knocked down.
But at the end, knighthood attained and Academy Award in
hand, he waddled away. His films were funny, they were
touching, and they taught us a lot about ourselves. But it was
Chaplin's portrayal of downtrodden man, embodied in a little
fellow in baggy pants and oversized shoes that became his

greatest legacy. The Little Tramp was not so unlike his creator
after all.
No one was more shocked than Charlie Chaplin himself by his Little Tramp character's
meteoric rise to fame in this country in 1915.
Having arrived on a vaudeville tour just five years earlier, the shy and reserved former
British music hall comedian confided: "I can't understand all this stuff. I am just a little
nickel comedian trying to make people laugh. They act as though I were the king of
England."
It was precisely because admission to Chaplin's films at nickelodeons across the country
was so affordable -- just a nickel -- that the quiet little Englishman was so rapidly
crowned America's King of Comedy.
Viewed in retrospect, Chaplin's decision to concentrate upon developing his own
psychological sentimental slapstick could not have come at a more opportune time. As far
as the World-War-I-weary world was concerned, it was welcome relief.
By spring of 1915, he had created "The Tramp," his first bittersweet comedy with a
signature ending in which -- plucky and resilient after losing in love -- his homeless
comic hero waddles down life's highway, desolate and utterly alone.
That distinctive Chaplin touch of sentimental pathos coupled with the recurrent theme of
going it alone stemmed from a deeply painful boyhood. By transforming his real-life
experiences as a Cockney ragamuffin into his screen character, Chaplin was able to
catapult from poverty to wealth and from obscurity into fame.
Homelessness -- as pressing an issue in post-Dickensian England as it is in modern
America -- was integral to Chaplin's childhood and would become a haunting motif in the
poignant social commentary of his later feature films as well. On a few rare but
nightmarishly unforgettable occasions as a very young child, Chaplin had been forced to
sleep on the streets of London and to forage for food in garbage pails. He knew painfully,
as well, what life was like in the orphanages and poorhouses of Edwardian London.
Chaplin's fictional film character both drew upon and comically depicted those agonizing
early encounters with urban dislocation.
Chaplin's father was an alcoholic who died when Charlie was 12, and his mother became
a chronically psychotic woman who was in and out of mental institutions.
Lives like Chaplin's are now being systematically studied by social scientists. They are
finding that all children subjected to homelessness and severe stress don't turn out the
same way. While many become severely disturbed adults, others, like Chaplin,
surprisingly turn out to be smart, resourceful, streetwise, super kids (the psychological
term to describe them is "invulnerable").
As adults they may go on to lead paradoxically high-achieving and remarkable lives as

valued members of society. Chaplin was such a person, and his famous film character and
alter-ego "Charlie" was as well.
Chaplin's first feature-length comedy and masterpiece, "The Kid" (1921), was a
remarkable film in which the Little Tramp found, adopted and raised a lost child. While
"The Kid" derived its immediate inspiration from 30-year-old Chaplin's personal
bereavement (his first-born son had died a few days after birth, only 2 1/2 weeks before
Chaplin began shooting the film), its twin themes of emotional loss and homelessness
resonated with contemporary social concerns. On everyone's minds were the displaced
refugee children of World War I, as well as for those persons grieving for loved ones
killed in that war.
And among intellectuals, Charlie's cinematic lost child spoke to a lost generation. No
movie maker and no other movie (with the exception of Griffith's "Birth of a Nation")
had done as much in one single stroke to earn instant recognition for the cinema as a
legitimate art form.
During the worldwide economic crisis of the 1930s, Chaplin attempted to place the grim
problems of society into a comic perspective through the running satiric commentary of
"Modern Times."
Stationing his Little Tramp squarely in the middle of the mess by casting him as a blacksheep factory worker who was no more a conscientious member in good standing of the
organized masses than he was among those in the ruling classes, Chaplin poked goodnatured fun at both sides. Kidding profit-conscious management for its indifference to the
welfare of workers, he ribbed strike-happy, organized labor for its equally myopic
unwillingness to let big business get back on its feet by making less aggressive wage
demands. Steering clear of collective utopian solutions, his comedy ended with his own
signature exit, wandering down life's highway. "Charlie" shuffled off into the dawn of a
new day, arm in arm with an equally scruffy female companion (Paulette Goddard).
"Buck up -- never say die! We'll get along," are his final comforting words to her and his
Depression-conscious audience.
It was his next picture, "The Great Dictator" (1940), that got Chaplin into the political hot
water that ultimately led to his being barred from the United States. While he was on a
visit to England in 1952, his reentry permit would be revoked as retribution for his socalled communist sympathies and dubious moral character. It was an ironic twist that
Chaplin himself had forecast in a famous gag sequence in "Modern Times."
Wandering down the street, minding his own business, a naive but helpful Charlie sees a
red danger flag fall from the end of a passing truck and picks it up. While running along
and waving that red flag in an innocent attempt to catch the driver's eye, the Little Tramp
is entirely unaware, as he rounds a street corner, that he has just been joined from the rear
by an angry mob of striking demonstrators. Rallying behind his unfurled banner, they
begin chanting the Communist "Internationale" until they are dispersed by the cops, who

bop Charlie the Red over the head and throw him in jail.
Just four years later it would be in a remarkably similar situation involving rapidly
changing political contexts that Chaplin the film maker earned the enmity of isolationist
America's political establishment for "The Great Dictator." Abandoning traditional
pantomime technique and his classic tramp character in order to play two talking parts -Adolph Hitler and a little Jewish barber -- Chaplin spoke for the first time on film.
His closing speech, an artistically flawed but emotionally eloquent plea for concerted
international intervention against Hitler's persecution of the Jews, instantly earned
Chaplin a subpoena to appear before a hastily formed, isolationist, anti-war Senate
subcommittee on war propaganda in September of 1941.
And Chaplin's popular, financially successful film -- which helped shape American public
opinion in favor of the war -- also helped earn him (in the files of the FBI), the quaint
political epithet of "premature anti-fascist." (In the terminology of the day, it was a
political euphemism for someone with strong left-wing leanings who was not officially a
member of the Communist Party.)
As Talleyrand remarked, "treason is a matter of dates." Chaplin's passionately anti-Nazi
views, about which he was outspoken from the late 1930s to war's end, would never
change. But our relationship to Russia and Germany would. During the years of the
Hitler-Stalin Pact, America's official position was isolationist, and Chaplin's speech in
"The Great Dictator" was seen as inciting to war. By the time the United States was
involved in World War II, new alliances were forming. Politics during this period made
strange bedfellows. The American Communist Party and the right-wing America First
Committee were unified in their adamant opposition to this country entering the war
against Germany. And it was precisely during this period that Chaplin filmed and
premiered "The Great Dictator," which openly urged Americans to wage war against the
Nazis regardless of whether that war harmed or benefited the Soviet Union.
When the Soviet Union and America later became allies in a life-and-death struggle
against the Axis powers, Chaplin continued voicing his vehement anti-Nazi attitudes. But
now, he also championed Soviet interests as identical with our own. Throughout 1942, he
campaigned vigorously on behalf of Russian War Relief and a Second Front.
Because of Chaplin's worldwide stature as an artist and the ability of a Chaplin satire to
tickle funny bones on such a mass scale, those who disagreed with his politics viewed
him as a formidable adversary. But if his ability to influence were to be effectively
neutralized, Chaplin's popular image had to be taken down several notches.
The backlash against Chaplin began gathering momentum in late 1942. Westbrook
Pegler, a conservative journalist whose syndicated column ran in hundreds of newspapers
(including The Times), kicked off the campaign with two scathing diatribes. Equating
Chaplin's activities in support of our military alliance with the Soviets as pro-Communist
and therefore anti-American, he recommended his deportation. And with even more

vehemence, Pegler also made the suggestion that the actor's three previous divorces were
clear proof of his unpatriotic contempt "for the standard American relationship of
marriage, family and home."
The last charge proved to be the one that stuck most easily. The average American
newspaper reader was in no mood for any political polemics which could weaken the war
effort. But as a younger man, Chaplin had a reputation as a ladies' man. And a juicy sex
scandal involving a famous movie star made good reading.
In June of 1943, an unmarried woman with whom Chaplin had been intimate filed a
paternity suit, claiming he was the father of her unborn child. Independently administered
blood tests would conclusively prove that he was not the child's father. But before those
results could ever be made known, Chaplin was well on his way to becoming publicly
branded a "moral leper."
Daily front-page coverage of a sensational trial on lurid charges of white slavery,
unflattering photos of him being fingerprinted like a common criminal and a running
series of hostile articles by politically conservative Hollywood columnists (led by Hedda
Hopper) all contributed to the precipitous decline in Chaplin's public image, as did
behind-the-scenes activities of the FBI. Careful analysis of that agency's security files on
Chaplin suggests he was frivolously charged with the antiquated Mann Act in spite of
abundant evidence of his innocence (which he eventually proved); it also suggests that
the FBI supplied gossip columnists with information from those files and that the bureau
even suppressed (and physically hid) indications of judicial impropriety that, if known,
would have forced the federal judge hearing the case to disqualify himself on ethical
grounds.
Because of newspaper coverage of a protracted series of paternity hearings and trials that
did not end until a month after Germany's surrender, Chaplin's political influence was
effectively curtailed. But he fervently remained committed to an idealistic, postwar
crusade against all forms of domestic political repression. Like many American liberals in
those days, he was quicker to identify and protest the encroachments on civil liberties in
the United States than he was prepared to immediately recognize and condemn the
excesses of Stalinism.
With his image tarnished as a result of the negative publicity campaign, the political
strategy for containing Chaplin became the reverse of what it earlier had been. Keeping
Chaplin off the witness stand was now the single most effective way to further damage
his reputation and to impugn his loyalties. He was, in effect, labeled a communist in a
campaign of rumors and innuendoes. For as the House Un-American Activities
Committee and FBI well knew (and the files of the latter indicate), he never had been a
member of the Communist Party. Had he been allowed to testify under oath, he could
have set the record straight. (Subpoenaed by HUAC in 1947, his hearing was postponed
three times and finally canceled.)
Chaplin fought back with the pugnacious tenacity of the true childhood invulnerable. He

obliged his attackers by responding to their inflammatory rhetoric with passionate


indignation. Goaded into defending himself, he rapidly became a convenient symbol of
dangerous leftist leanings.
He was determined -- no matter what the personal cost -- not to be intimidated. That
characteristic sign of the true childhood invulnerable -- a deep and abiding faith in his
ability to overcome any and all obstacles -- had always been the personal credo by which
he lived:
Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the streets trying to find enough
to eat to keep alive, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had
to feel that exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without that you go
down in defeat.
That same survival characteristic had endeared his Little Tramp to moviegoers around the
world for over 40 years. It was natural that the invulnerable child in Charlie would
assume that the same psychological defense mechanism would serve him equally well in
his struggles with HUAC and the FBI.
"Proceed with the butchery . . . fire ahead at this old gray head," were his opening words
to the reporters who gathered at the press conference after the opening of "Monsieur
Verdoux" in 1947. Distinctly disinterested in discussing his film, they were there to report
on his politics. They bombarded him with questions about his patriotism. The Cold War
was heating up. His good-natured attempt to humorously deflect their hostility by
describing himself as a "peace monger" did not go over.
Afterward, when conservative political pressure groups demonstrated their ability to
induce Americans to boycott his film as an act of patriotism, Chaplin began to fully
appreciate the extent to which he had underestimated his opponents.
"Limelight," the last film he made before leaving this country in the fall of 1952, suffered
an even more drastic fate. Right-wing lobbyists were able to bring so much political
pressure to bear on major exhibitors that bookings were canceled at hundreds of theaters.
By the following spring, Chaplin was living in permanent political exile in Switzerland -a decision he announced symbolically by turning in his American reentry permit.
Although he would not set foot in this country for another 20 years, daily reminders of
his absence were a regular occurrence in the subliminal consciousness of millions of
Americans during that summer of 1953. Chaplin's theme song from "Limelight" (which
he composed) became a popular hit. The haunting refrain of his sentimental swan song
drifted over America's airwaves.
Through an odd twist of fate and technicality in the rules of the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts & Sciences, his theme song would also win Chaplin and his arrangers an
Academy Award in 1972 when "Limelight" had been re-released. (In order to have been

considered back in 1952, the film would have had to play for a minimum of one week in
Los Angeles. So successful had the "Limelight" boycott been, his film had never lasted
that long in one single theater that year.)
Times had changed by the time Charlie came back to collect his Oscar. Chaplin the
former firebrand was now a politically harmless old man in his 80s. And the 37th
President of the United States -- a former HUAC member and the most prominent
domestic anti-Communist of the day at the time of Chaplin's departure -- was too busy
with his own political issues to comment on Charlie's return visit. Within a few months
he would be attempting to explain a break-in that had recently taken place at Democratic
Party headquarters at the Watergate.
Given the passion with which Chaplin immersed himself -- both wittingly and
unwittingly -- in the partisan struggles and ideological controversies of an era still
charged with emotion, perhaps it is not surprising that the 100th anniversary is receiving
no official attention in this country.
What, if any, public recognition the American government will give his memory in the
future -- as one of this country's greatest artists -- remains to be seen. That Chaplin,
through his films, has surpassed and outlived his detractors is clear. The invulnerable
"Charlie" seems well on his way to immortality.
T WHAT MADE CHARLIE RUN?

FROM DESTITUTION TO GLOBAL ACCLAIM: A LOOK AT


CHAPLIN ON THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS BIRTH
No one was more shocked than Charlie Chaplin himself by his Little Tramp character's
meteoric rise to fame in this country in 1915.
Having arrived on a vaudeville tour just five years earlier, the shy and reserved former
British music hall comedian confided: "I can't understand all this stuff. I am just a little
nickel comedian trying to make people laugh. They act as though I were the king of
England."
It was precisely because admission to Chaplin's films at nickelodeons across the country
was so affordable -- just a nickel -- that the quiet little Englishman was so rapidly
crowned America's King of Comedy.
Viewed in retrospect, Chaplin's decision to concentrate upon developing his own
psychological sentimental slapstick could not have come at a more opportune time. As far
as the World-War-I-weary world was concerned, it was welcome relief.
By spring of 1915, he had created "The Tramp," his first bittersweet comedy with a
signature ending in which -- plucky and resilient after losing in love -- his homeless
comic hero waddles down life's highway, desolate and utterly alone.

That distinctive Chaplin touch of sentimental pathos coupled with the recurrent theme of
going it alone stemmed from a deeply painful boyhood. By transforming his real-life
experiences as a Cockney ragamuffin into his screen character, Chaplin was able to
catapult from poverty to wealth and from obscurity into fame.
Homelessness -- as pressing an issue in post-Dickensian England as it is in modern
America -- was integral to Chaplin's childhood and would become a haunting motif in the
poignant social commentary of his later feature films as well. On a few rare but
nightmarishly unforgettable occasions as a very young child, Chaplin had been forced to
sleep on the streets of London and to forage for food in garbage pails. He knew painfully,
as well, what life was like in the orphanages and poorhouses of Edwardian London.
Chaplin's fictional film character both drew upon and comically depicted those agonizing
early encounters with urban dislocation.
Chaplin's father was an alcoholic who died when Charlie was 12, and his mother became
a chronically psychotic woman who was in and out of mental institutions.
Lives like Chaplin's are now being systematically studied by social scientists. They are
finding that all children subjected to homelessness and severe stress don't turn out the
same way. While many become severely disturbed adults, others, like Chaplin,
surprisingly turn out to be smart, resourceful, streetwise, super kids (the psychological
term to describe them is "invulnerable").
As adults they may go on to lead paradoxically high-achieving and remarkable lives as
valued members of society. Chaplin was such a person, and his famous film character and
alter-ego "Charlie" was as well.
Chaplin's first feature-length comedy and masterpiece, "The Kid" (1921), was a
remarkable film in which the Little Tramp found, adopted and raised a lost child. While
"The Kid" derived its immediate inspiration from 30-year-old Chaplin's personal
bereavement (his first-born son had died a few days after birth, only 2 1/2 weeks before
Chaplin began shooting the film), its twin themes of emotional loss and homelessness
resonated with contemporary social concerns. On everyone's minds were the displaced
refugee children of World War I, as well as for those persons grieving for loved ones
killed in that war.
And among intellectuals, Charlie's cinematic lost child spoke to a lost generation. No
movie maker and no other movie (with the exception of Griffith's "Birth of a Nation")
had done as much in one single stroke to earn instant recognition for the cinema as a
legitimate art form.
During the worldwide economic crisis of the 1930s, Chaplin attempted to place the grim
problems of society into a comic perspective through the running satiric commentary of
"Modern Times."

Stationing his Little Tramp squarely in the middle of the mess by casting him as a blacksheep factory worker who was no more a conscientious member in good standing of the
organized masses than he was among those in the ruling classes, Chaplin poked goodnatured fun at both sides. Kidding profit-conscious management for its indifference to the
welfare of workers, he ribbed strike-happy, organized labor for its equally myopic
unwillingness to let big business get back on its feet by making less aggressive wage
demands. Steering clear of collective utopian solutions, his comedy ended with his own
signature exit, wandering down life's highway. "Charlie" shuffled off into the dawn of a
new day, arm in arm with an equally scruffy female companion (Paulette Goddard).
"Buck up -- never say die! We'll get along," are his final comforting words to her and his
Depression-conscious audience.
It was his next picture, "The Great Dictator" (1940), that got Chaplin into the political hot
water that ultimately led to his being barred from the United States. While he was on a
visit to England in 1952, his reentry permit would be revoked as retribution for his socalled communist sympathies and dubious moral character. It was an ironic twist that
Chaplin himself had forecast in a famous gag sequence in "Modern Times."
Wandering down the street, minding his own business, a naive but helpful Charlie sees a
red danger flag fall from the end of a passing truck and picks it up. While running along
and waving that red flag in an innocent attempt to catch the driver's eye, the Little Tramp
is entirely unaware, as he rounds a street corner, that he has just been joined from the rear
by an angry mob of striking demonstrators. Rallying behind his unfurled banner, they
begin chanting the Communist "Internationale" until they are dispersed by the cops, who
bop Charlie the Red over the head and throw him in jail.
Just four years later it would be in a remarkably similar situation involving rapidly
changing political contexts that Chaplin the film maker earned the enmity of isolationist
America's political establishment for "The Great Dictator." Abandoning traditional
pantomime technique and his classic tramp character in order to play two talking parts -Adolph Hitler and a little Jewish barber -- Chaplin spoke for the first time on film.
His closing speech, an artistically flawed but emotionally eloquent plea for concerted
international intervention against Hitler's persecution of the Jews, instantly earned
Chaplin a subpoena to appear before a hastily formed, isolationist, anti-war Senate
subcommittee on war propaganda in September of 1941.
And Chaplin's popular, financially successful film -- which helped shape American public
opinion in favor of the war -- also helped earn him (in the files of the FBI), the quaint
political epithet of "premature anti-fascist." (In the terminology of the day, it was a
political euphemism for someone with strong left-wing leanings who was not officially a
member of the Communist Party.)
As Talleyrand remarked, "treason is a matter of dates." Chaplin's passionately anti-Nazi
views, about which he was outspoken from the late 1930s to war's end, would never

change. But our relationship to Russia and Germany would. During the years of the
Hitler-Stalin Pact, America's official position was isolationist, and Chaplin's speech in
"The Great Dictator" was seen as inciting to war. By the time the United States was
involved in World War II, new alliances were forming. Politics during this period made
strange bedfellows. The American Communist Party and the right-wing America First
Committee were unified in their adamant opposition to this country entering the war
against Germany. And it was precisely during this period that Chaplin filmed and
premiered "The Great Dictator," which openly urged Americans to wage war against the
Nazis regardless of whether that war harmed or benefited the Soviet Union.
When the Soviet Union and America later became allies in a life-and-death struggle
against the Axis powers, Chaplin continued voicing his vehement anti-Nazi attitudes. But
now, he also championed Soviet interests as identical with our own. Throughout 1942, he
campaigned vigorously on behalf of Russian War Relief and a Second Front.
Because of Chaplin's worldwide stature as an artist and the ability of a Chaplin satire to
tickle funny bones on such a mass scale, those who disagreed with his politics viewed
him as a formidable adversary. But if his ability to influence were to be effectively
neutralized, Chaplin's popular image had to be taken down several notches.
The backlash against Chaplin began gathering momentum in late 1942. Westbrook
Pegler, a conservative journalist whose syndicated column ran in hundreds of newspapers
(including The Times), kicked off the campaign with two scathing diatribes. Equating
Chaplin's activities in support of our military alliance with the Soviets as pro-Communist
and therefore anti-American, he recommended his deportation. And with even more
vehemence, Pegler also made the suggestion that the actor's three previous divorces were
clear proof of his unpatriotic contempt "for the standard American relationship of
marriage, family and home."
The last charge proved to be the one that stuck most easily. The average American
newspaper reader was in no mood for any political polemics which could weaken the war
effort. But as a younger man, Chaplin had a reputation as a ladies' man. And a juicy sex
scandal involving a famous movie star made good reading.
In June of 1943, an unmarried woman with whom Chaplin had been intimate filed a
paternity suit, claiming he was the father of her unborn child. Independently administered
blood tests would conclusively prove that he was not the child's father. But before those
results could ever be made known, Chaplin was well on his way to becoming publicly
branded a "moral leper."
Daily front-page coverage of a sensational trial on lurid charges of white slavery,
unflattering photos of him being fingerprinted like a common criminal and a running
series of hostile articles by politically conservative Hollywood columnists (led by Hedda
Hopper) all contributed to the precipitous decline in Chaplin's public image, as did
behind-the-scenes activities of the FBI. Careful analysis of that agency's security files on
Chaplin suggests he was frivolously charged with the antiquated Mann Act in spite of

abundant evidence of his innocence (which he eventually proved); it also suggests that
the FBI supplied gossip columnists with information from those files and that the bureau
even suppressed (and physically hid) indications of judicial impropriety that, if known,
would have forced the federal judge hearing the case to disqualify himself on ethical
grounds.
Because of newspaper coverage of a protracted series of paternity hearings and trials that
did not end until a month after Germany's surrender, Chaplin's political influence was
effectively curtailed. But he fervently remained committed to an idealistic, postwar
crusade against all forms of domestic political repression. Like many American liberals in
those days, he was quicker to identify and protest the encroachments on civil liberties in
the United States than he was prepared to immediately recognize and condemn the
excesses of Stalinism.
With his image tarnished as a result of the negative publicity campaign, the political
strategy for containing Chaplin became the reverse of what it earlier had been. Keeping
Chaplin off the witness stand was now the single most effective way to further damage
his reputation and to impugn his loyalties. He was, in effect, labeled a communist in a
campaign of rumors and innuendoes. For as the House Un-American Activities
Committee and FBI well knew (and the files of the latter indicate), he never had been a
member of the Communist Party. Had he been allowed to testify under oath, he could
have set the record straight. (Subpoenaed by HUAC in 1947, his hearing was postponed
three times and finally canceled.)
Chaplin fought back with the pugnacious tenacity of the true childhood invulnerable. He
obliged his attackers by responding to their inflammatory rhetoric with passionate
indignation. Goaded into defending himself, he rapidly became a convenient symbol of
dangerous leftist leanings.
He was determined -- no matter what the personal cost -- not to be intimidated. That
characteristic sign of the true childhood invulnerable -- a deep and abiding faith in his
ability to overcome any and all obstacles -- had always been the personal credo by which
he lived:
Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the streets trying to find enough
to eat to keep alive, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had
to feel that exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without that you go
down in defeat.
That same survival characteristic had endeared his Little Tramp to moviegoers around the
world for over 40 years. It was natural that the invulnerable child in Charlie would
assume that the same psychological defense mechanism would serve him equally well in
his struggles with HUAC and the FBI.
"Proceed with the butchery . . . fire ahead at this old gray head," were his opening words
to the reporters who gathered at the press conference after the opening of "Monsieur

Verdoux" in 1947. Distinctly disinterested in discussing his film, they were there to report
on his politics. They bombarded him with questions about his patriotism. The Cold War
was heating up. His good-natured attempt to humorously deflect their hostility by
describing himself as a "peace monger" did not go over.
Afterward, when conservative political pressure groups demonstrated their ability to
induce Americans to boycott his film as an act of patriotism, Chaplin began to fully
appreciate the extent to which he had underestimated his opponents.
"Limelight," the last film he made before leaving this country in the fall of 1952, suffered
an even more drastic fate. Right-wing lobbyists were able to bring so much political
pressure to bear on major exhibitors that bookings were canceled at hundreds of theaters.
By the following spring, Chaplin was living in permanent political exile in Switzerland -a decision he announced symbolically by turning in his American reentry permit.
Although he would not set foot in this country for another 20 years, daily reminders of
his absence were a regular occurrence in the subliminal consciousness of millions of
Americans during that summer of 1953. Chaplin's theme song from "Limelight" (which
he composed) became a popular hit. The haunting refrain of his sentimental swan song
drifted over America's airwaves.
Through an odd twist of fate and technicality in the rules of the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts & Sciences, his theme song would also win Chaplin and his arrangers an
Academy Award in 1972 when "Limelight" had been re-released. (In order to have been
considered back in 1952, the film would have had to play for a minimum of one week in
Los Angeles. So successful had the "Limelight" boycott been, his film had never lasted
that long in one single theater that year.)
Times had changed by the time Charlie came back to collect his Oscar. Chaplin the
former firebrand was now a politically harmless old man in his 80s. And the 37th
President of the United States -- a former HUAC member and the most prominent
domestic anti-Communist of the day at the time of Chaplin's departure -- was too busy
with his own political issues to comment on Charlie's return visit. Within a few months
he would be attempting to explain a break-in that had recently taken place at Democratic
Party headquarters at the Watergate.
Given the passion with which Chaplin immersed himself -- both wittingly and
unwittingly -- in the partisan struggles and ideological controversies of an era still
charged with emotion, perhaps it is not surprising that the 100th anniversary is receiving
no official attention in this country.
What, if any, public recognition the American government will give his memory in the
future -- as one of this country's greatest artists -- remains to be seen. That Chaplin,
through his films, has surpassed and outlived his detractors is clear. The invulnerable
"Charlie" seems well on his way to immortality.