Today! Because the tramp can’t talk. The minute he talks, he’s dead –
Directed by Richard Attenborough
Starring Robert Downey Jr. (x6), Paul Rhys, Geraldine Chaplin, Anthony Hopkins (x4), Kevin Kline (x2), Moira Kelly (x2), Dan Aykroyd (x4), Marisa Tomei (x2), Penelope Ann Miller, John Thaw, Kevin Dunn (x2), Diane Lane, Milla Jovovich (x2), James Woods, Nancy Travis, Matthew Cottle, David Duchovny, John Standing (x3), Maria Pitillo, Deborah Moore
Ah, 1992! Apparently the heyday of my movie watching! The eighth entry from the year of Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, Chaplin had a good hand in stretching my film interests back into the silent era. Now, as we’ve gone over in this space recently, it’s not like this list is teeming with dialogue-free cinema, however, without Chaplin there’s a good chance that none whatsoever would appear. Charlie Chaplin is a gateway into the entire era for most casual film goers, right? Silent comedy, by and large, looks ridiculous now, but at least it’s accessible. People like broad, physical comedy up to the present day, so silents can still be enjoyable, so long as you put aside your prejudice against this form of moviemaking. Don’t lie! Silents are hard, sometimes! One of the only instances where I fell asleep in a movie theater was catching the 1916 Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette at the Chicago Film Festival a few years back. I was too tired going in! Plus, while there may have been no spoken words, the theater was still plenty loud from the reverberating snores! Everyone I went with fell asleep too! 100% true story. Sorry, Mr. Gillette!
Oh, right, so, Chaplin. I doubt I’d actually sat and watched an entire Charlie Chaplin movie before seeing this biopic, but I got way into them afterward. And then by extension your Buster Keatons and Fatty Arbuckles and Harold Lloyds and Mabel Normands and Fritz Langs. So I owe a lot of subsequent enjoyment to Richard Attenborough’s star-studded recounting of the great comic’s life. Downey’s early career peaked with this masterful performance, believable throughout Chaplin’s life even into old age, and he gets the lion’s share of credit and attention for the film, but this discounts many great supporting turns, not the least of which is the perennially underrated Geraldine Chaplin, portraying her own grandmother Hannah’s stunning first act mental deterioration (a character of Geraldine actually appears as a young girl later in the film as well). But other great real-life portrayals include Kevin Kline’s wonderful Douglas Fairbanks, Paul Rhys as Charlie’s less successful actor brother Sydney, Dan Aykroyd’s larger-than-life silent directing legend Mack Sennett, and Moira Kelly drawing the long-suffering straw as Charlie’s wife Oona.
If there is a solid criticism to be lobbed it’s that the movie attempts to cover a bit too much. Purportedly the original cut of the film was nearly double the length of the theatrically released 143 minute version, so that would certainly account for some of the issues, but I feel like if this was made today they might’ve focused on one of the many interesting portions of Chaplin’s life (childhood/early career, superstardom, scandal/exile) to better effect. Plus, sequels! The Chaplin-a-verse! I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney doesn’t attempt this in the years to come anyway.
RDJ received his first Oscar nomination for Chaplin, one of the three it would receive (including Art Direction-Set Direction and John Barry for Original Score), while Downey and Barry were joined by Geraldine in getting Globe nods. But has any recognition been given to Best Dino-Sacrifice, wherein Steven Spielberg deliberately delayed Jurassic Park’s production so that director Attenborough could finish up Chaplin before sparing no expense as Park founder John Hammond? Not exactly a Chaplin award, but still admirable!
Loads of new and advancing club members, including Kline (#259 Soapdish), Kelly (#391 The Lion King), Tomei (#368 Anger Management), Dunn (#276 Hot Shots!), and Jovovich (#256 The Fifth Element) to the Two-Timers, John Standing (#328 The Man Who Knew Too Little, #323 The Elephant Man) to the Threes, and Aykroyd (#378 Sneakers, #331 Twilight Zone: The Movie, #294 1941) and Hopkins (#350 Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Elephant Man, #255 Red Dragon) jumping up to the Fours. But Chaplin also creates the new top rung, as RDJ becomes the first Six-Timer (#397 Wonder Boys, #383 Sherlock Holmes, Soapdish, #278 Zodiac, #265 Iron Man 3), and it’s about time!