The Real Charlie Chaplin: Trials and Triumphs of the Tramp

Author’s Disclaimer: While some of the details of Chaplin’s personal life may sound disturbing, I have reserved judgment because these events happened quite a while ago and there are always two sides to a story. But, of course, the audience is always entitled to their own opinion.

Review: Through never-heard-before audio recordings compiled of people that knew iconic silent film actor Charlie Chaplin throughout his life, an extremely rare interview that he did for Life Magazine in 1966, and some reenactments where you never really get to see the actor’s face who plays Chaplin, directors James Spinney and Peter Middleton (Notes on Blindness <2016>) presents their latest documentary film together, The Real Charlie Chaplin. It is a semi-successful new approach to biographical filmmaking where it explores and acknowledges Chaplin’s creative, comedic genius as well as his outstanding contributions to the film industry itself and yet also takes the time to touch on what might be a darker side to the beloved Tramp.

He was admired throughout the world for his inspiring story of growing up from abject poverty after his father’s abandonment, dealing with his mother’s declining mental health, being put in the Lambeth Workhouse and his eventual rise to success in America to a being one of the highest-paid actors of Hollywood’s golden era; it is almost something straight out of a Charles Dickens novel. In essence, the title of the film is ambiguous at best because the audience really cannot say that they know any more about the “real” Charlie Chaplin than what is available to the general public. It is more about following the journey through the external information collected by the directors and being able to see just how intriguingly complex of a man that Charlie Chaplin was in real life.

His close friends and co-workers would describe him as a man who can be quiet, introverted, and self-reflective and yet display a fiery, sometimes explosive temper without warning. Chaplin had many different faces but his most iconic would be his persona of the iconic The Tramp or The Little Man. The silent character would go on to become the most represented and replicated image throughout the world at that time. Chaplin was a man not only obsessed with his work but in controlling almost every aspect of his films. He would write, direct, star, and even sometimes try his hand at make-up and hair. The actor was also a perfectionist and was known to retake a scene over and over again until he was completely satisfied with the result, which would cause his staff and cast to become either utterly exhausted or mentally frayed with his efforts.

However, it is Chaplin’s personal history with the fairer sex that would land him into hot legal waters more than just once. The most bitter legal battle would be his much-publicised divorce from actress Lita Grey, his second wife. Grey wrote at least two books and did several interviews to try to get the public to see beyond their love of the character that Chaplin played to see what she thought was a monster that lived beneath. But there are also two sides to a story, and I will reserve my judgment because whenever there is a large sum of money involved people will go to great lengths to get a piece of the proverbial pie.

The other case that would further damage Chaplin’s career would be the paternity suit filed by another actress named Joan Barry who also accused him of forcing her to terminate two other pregnancies during their relationship. It would later be proven that her child was not Chaplin’s and Barry would later be admitted to a mental institution for treatment.

Oona O’Neill and Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin’s relationship with his fourth and final wife Oona O’Neill was shown through intimate home movies as being a picture of serenity while the Tramp is in the role of the jovial, fun-loving father anytime the cameras were focused on him with Oona and his children. But, behind it, all his children would describe him in their own words as still being distant when he was working on a script. Their mother would always say not to bother their father as he was working and is not be disturbed. He would always seem like a father just out of their reach and yet whenever he did focus his attention on them it would feel stifling almost to the point of controlling because he was afraid to let go. By this time Chaplin was in his fifties America, the land that helped to catapult to him fame, had turned their backs on their beloved Tramp.

The final nail in the coffin was being accused by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover, of being a Communist sympathiser. Despite all these troubles, Chaplin was able to sell his studios and leasehold interests in America to move to Switzerland with his family. But he remained with a lifelong fear of a return to poverty and the anxiety that he was never good enough.

By the end of the film, the audience will not be able to deny the fact that Chaplin was a pioneer in the film industry and remains an inspiration despite his bitter legal battles or scandalous personal relationships. When the Tramp first makes his screen appearance he breaks the fourth wall and looks directly at the camera with a coy expression conveying that he will one day win over the audience and soon the world.

Alice’s Score: 7.5 out of 10

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Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump. I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. Read More