I was first introduced to Charlie Chaplin when I was only five years old via a gift from my father. The gift was “My Autobiography” written by Chaplin himself and I was mesmerized by pictures of this man, from his school days to his life as a silent actor. Much to my surprise, the film “The Kid” with Chaplin and Jackie Coogan played on TV one day and I became even more captivated with the actor.
It was about 18 years later when I was asked to write a “Compare/Contrast” essay for a film class and decided to choose two Chaplin films to do it. From that point forward, I became hooked and decided to watch all the films available. Here, what follows, is my list of my 10 favorite Chaplin films.
- Modern Times (1936)
Modern Times defines truly what Chaplin was as not just an actor or director, but how he could transform a film into art. He was able to show the world a message about the plight of the workers in an original, funny way that no other actor really could. The film is about a factory worker who tries to help an orphan (Paulette Goddard) get her feet back on track. The film’s finale with “The Little Tramp” and his nonsense song is a must-watch, which is followed by the Tramp’s final farewell with Goddard by his side and the song “Smile” playing over it.
- A Night in the Show (1915)
This film was one of the earlier features of Chaplin’s career, when he worked for Essanay Studios. It’s mayhem and Chaplin plays two roles in his pre-Tramp days. It also marks one of his early collaborations with leading lady Edna Purviance.
- A Day’s Pleasure (1919)
This is one of the few films where Chaplin plays a family man. Edna Purviance plays his wife, while Jackie Coogan plays one of his children before their collaboration in “The Kid”. Chaplin finds himself in mishaps after mishaps, with cars and ships, citizens and police, but the film is a great little throwback to his vaudeville days with the Keystone Kops.
- A King in New York (1957)
Chaplin is most famous for his silent comedies, but that is not to say that his later work wasn’t great, either. This is one of the films that really showed that Charlie had the ability to work as a comedian in both eras (silent and sound). The film is a satire after Chaplin was deemed a communist and his exile from the United States. His performance is great, but it’s another Chaplin that is able to stand out on his own and that’s Michael Chaplin’s acting as Rupert. The sad and tragic ending of the film (like many of Chaplin’s other films) lingers long after the film is complete.
- Easy Street (1917)
Another early gem, this film showcases not only the work of Chaplin, but one of his most frequent collaborators in Eric Campbell. Also starring once again, Edna Purviance and another frequent star of his films, Henry Bergman, the film is a great example of Chaplin’s own directorial efforts and comedic timing.
- The Great Dictator (1940)
“The Great Dictator” is the first full length feature sound film for Chaplin and is a hilarious spoof of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Once again, Chaplin plays two different characters and his scenes with Benito Mussolini’s counterpart, Napaloni, are some of the funniest scenes of his career.
- Limelight (1952)
This film is Chaplin’s most autobiographical film. It follows an aging Vaudevillian actor who tries to assist a suicidal ballerina (Claire Bloom). It’s notable for the fact that it’s the only film that features the two greatest silent comedians in one film, with Chaplin pairing up with Buster Keaton. It also strays from the fact that this was one of the only dramatic works of Chaplin’s career and also the only film to earn an Academy Award in Chaplin’s life.
- The Immigrant (1917)
Once again starring Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell, this film is one of the most famous of his short films, but also marks a historic turning point in his career in which his “tramp” character becomes the basis for what the character actually would become in his feature films. The character had yet to become fully fleshed out and this is the film where you finally understand the significance of how the character became a symbol of class division and poverty at the time.
- The Circus (1928)
“The Circus”, in my opinion, is the most underrated of Chaplin’s feature films. Carrying similar themes of love and loneliness, as well as the ignorance of the disadvantaged, this movie follows Chaplin, whose fame begins to rise through abuse and unrequited love. The film’s unfortunate timing came during a time when Chaplin lost his own love through divorce and followed the death of his mother.
- City Lights (1931)
“City Lights” has moment after moment in which you can see Chaplin’s artistry at work. Chaplin once again plays “The Tramp” who falls in love with a blind girl, played by Virginia Cherrill. When Chaplin realizes she needs an operation, he goes through multiple schemes in order to get rich, from boxing matches to robberies. Also classic for his scenes with Harry Myers, a drunkard, the film’s most notable achievement is once again in one of the greatest endings in film history, the realization (by way of forlorn eyes) from a once blind girl to the man that sacrificed himself for her.
There are other great films in Chaplin’s career, including the aforementioned “The Kid” and classic scenes in “The Gold Rush”. And if you love silent comedy, check out some of the great work from Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Ben Turpin, and Chester Conklin.
Have you ever watched silent comedies? Do you enjoy any other films not mentioned? Please comment on your own recommendations.