Revisiting Rocky: A Look Back at Rocky V

For the previous review on Rocky IV, please click here – Rocky IV Review

I remember standing inside the lobby of our local movie theater back in 1990 when I first saw a poster of Rocky with his fist in the air and the advertisement that Rocky was coming soon.  I thought it may have been the original Rocky coming back to theaters for a limited time.  If that had been the case, I wouldn’t have minded…but instead as I soon found out, it was another sequel to the original and while I don’t think the movie was terrible, it was definitely an unnecessary sequel that didn’t do much to change much of the story.

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Let’s go back to the beginning where we find out that Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) has some lingering after-effects from his previous match with Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).  Concussions and brain damage is a pretty hot topic in today’s world of sports, ranging from football to mixed martial arts, so not too unrealistic that this could occur.  Adrian (Talia Shire) is worried and for good reason.  However, this plot line is a major part of the fifth film, but does not get mentioned in the next sequel, so it does bring about some continuity issues there.

Speaking of continuity, if I am not mistaken, Robert (Rocky, Jr.) Balboa was a sandy-haired little nine year old boy when Rocky got to the Soviet Union.  Now…he has grown into a dark haired 14 year old when Rocky returns.  That was one long trip!  The change in actors is understandable…I am not a big fan of it, but sometimes it has to be done for personal reasons.  But couldn’t they have at least found someone a little closer to his previous age.  Instead, Sly casts his own son, Sage Stallone, in the role, which of course opens up a completely new storyline involving teenage angst, jealousy and bullies.  It’s like “Rebel Without a Cause” meets “Rocky”.

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But we’ll move forward.  We have a completely new boxing challenger named Union Cane (Michael Williams) that is trained by George Washington Duke (Richard Gant).  So we have Duke….and we have Duke.  One is training Rocky and one is training the opponents of Rocky.  Confusing?  I was and always tried to figure out why they wouldn’t change their names.  Now Richard Gant, who has had some great dramatic roles in his career does a parody here and that is of famed Boxing promoter Don King.  I don’t know why that was necessary instead of inventing a completely new character…but it doesn’t work here.  It makes the film a farce and completely makes it stand out (not in a good way) from the other films.

It seems to me that Stallone was trying to go back to the original formula that made Rocky a success and one way he does it is by returning it to the roots…literally….Paulie (Burt Young) loses some money and the next thing you know they wind up back in Philadelphia.  Rocky returns to his old gym and sees the ghost of Mickey…a scene that actually is probably the highlight of the film as Burgess Meredith can’t do wrong…ever!  It’s a poignant scene that brings the film back to the mentor-fighter relationship, one of the strong points of the first 3 films.

That is when the film takes a turn, however and introduces Tommy “The Machine” Gunn.  What made the first three opponents work (Creed, Lang and Drago) is that they were played believably by Carl Weathers, Mr. T and Dolph Lundgren, respectively.  Tommy Gunn, however, is played by real-life boxer, the late Tommy Morrison and it seems to me all of Morrison’s “butterflies” and nervousness and possibly being intimidated by Stallone was shown through his character.  If we were to believe that Gunn could stand up to Rocky, I didn’t want to see a scared fighter, jittery lips intact.  I can honestly say that the character of Tommy Gunn is the weakest in all the films and brings the film down and out of sync.

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There is a secondary plot in the film, one that I don’t want to dwell on too much because the plot isn’t what the original story was about.  Robert, Jr. goes to a new school, gets bullied, meets a new girlfriend and learns to fight.  With all of that, Rocky is more concerned with his new protégé, Gunn than listening to his son until one fateful Christmas evening when Rocky loses Gunn to GW Duke and his son to his new found friends.  It is here where Adrian reminds her husband that she’s still around and if he doesn’t bring their son home, she’s out of there…well, she didn’t really say that, but finally a character had some fortitude to say “Hey, remember us?”  Rocky, of course, gets his son back and they become the “home team” again.

This all leads to the Tommy Gunn vs. Rocky Balboa fight….which is not for a title, but to see who is better out on the streets.  And again, it doesn’t work.  Much of the hoopla from all the other films has surrounded the fact that there’s a match in the ring and Rocky’s the underdog.  Here it’s a tale of revenge because….Paulie got a tooth knocked out in a bar?  And while there’s always that one inspirational line…”You knocked him down, now why don’t you try knockin’ me down” isn’t one of them.  But on to the fight we go…and this is where we once again have to suspend our beliefs.  Apparently, it’s a street fight that’s being televised live, even though it’s illegal.  You’ve got people standing around, hooting and hollering…I mean, I’ve never lived in Philadelphia, but I’m sure the last thing they want is that their city is known as a bunch of blood-thirsty folks.

In the end, Tommy loses and is arrested, while Don George Washington Duke King is knocked out on to the hood of a vehicle.  With that, Rocky is able to hug his wife, son…and give a thumbs up to the Italian priest.

And so we fade out to Elton John’s “Measure of a Man” as we reminisce of the better parts of the series with stills of scenes from the previous films and with that, the Rocky saga ends.  Oh wait, it doesn’t?  Apparently, even Sylvester Stallone wasn’t happy with the ending of this one (who would be?) that he decided we would get another film down the road.

FINAL GRADE:  C

 

So what are your thoughts on Rocky V?  Do you agree or disagree?  Is it better than Rocky IV or worse?  Hit me with a comment either way and next week, I’ll be reviewing Rocky III.

Poem 2: Yesterday

(This poem was generated by the Three Things Challenge:  Click on this post! )

 

YESTERDAY

My past is forever a brick of a wall

and forever it will stumble

with an exploding heavy boom

one by one, every bit will tumble.

 

My past is forever a family of fireflies

that dares to light up my eyes

with broken whistles and welts

all these nights, all these lies.

 

My past is a melody of a broken album

that is played with a heartbreaking strum

and with the tunes of disillusioned tears

that melt with the beat of each drum.

 

My past is a forgotten fantasy.

No one can hear the bouncing of balls

the ones we followed with a frolic

and our shrieking shouts and calls

that are forever gone

where the wall has been torn down

and each bright harmonizing smile

has turned into a frown

and a city

has disappeared

behind the cracked clouds.

 

Revisiting Rocky: A Look Back at Rocky IV

Over the next few weeks, I will be taking a look back at one of my favorite film series – the Rocky franchise, from my least favorite to my favorite.

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One of the reasons why I love the Rocky series is simply because it’s a metaphor for life in general – about overcoming odds when you’re an underdog.  It has a mix of everything for every type of person, whether you like romance, drama, comedy, action, etc.  The film mixes the best of all worlds.  And so without further ado, I present Rocky IV.  (Spoilers if you have not seen the films, by the way).

I first watched Rocky IV pretty soon after it came out (in 1985) and it was either this film or the third one that introduced me to the whole series (I really can’t remember which one I watched first, but I did not start with the first one until years later).  I remember really liking this film as a kid and really rooting for Rocky throughout the film, yet over the years my opinion has changed drastically.  When you watch this film with the others, it doesn’t fit.  There’s something off with this one.  On the one hand, it’s different from other films and yet, there’s also parts that are similar to the previous film that we’re almost watching a remake of Rocky III (albeit with a different character and world).

When you watch the first ten minutes, we go from Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) giving Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) a black eye during an exhibition (where the last film left off) to a birthday celebration for Paulie (Burt Young).  We are introduced to a talking robot.  Now I know I said that this film touches upon many themes and genres, but Sci-fi is not one that is needed.  Being introduced to Hal 2000’s doppelganger is unnecessary and doesn’t do much to advance the plot.

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From there, we are introduced to Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren), who we quickly see will be the chosen nemesis throughout the film.  And for some reason, this film cashes in on the Cold War in a boxing ring.  So I guess now, we’ve gone from Sci-Fi to a War film.  And so, because Apollo Creed represents America and Drago represents the Soviet Union, we have to pit these two against each other.

Apollo comes to Rocky’s home and decides to announce to the Balboa family that he will be taking it upon himself to fight Ivan.  (And in our little throwaway side plot, we also learn that Paulie has programmed his robot friend to become female???).  We also have learned that apparently Rocky’s wife, Adrian (Talia Shire) has grown so fond of Apollo that she advises against him going through with the match.  (When exactly did these two become so close?  Beats me…but we can’t dwell on that because we have a more fascinating Paulie-Robot love affair going on here.)

And so we turn our attention to the first fight of the film, Apollo Creed vs. Ivan Drago.  We also turn our attention to the next category this film will be undertaking – a musical!  No, really…for the next 30 or so minutes, we will be going through songs and montages and James Brown and exercise regiments that will set your hearts on fire (pun intended).  I am surprised we didn’t get Russian ballerinas performing in the middle of the boxing ring…although we do get to hear the Russian National Anthem.  And so there you have it so far, we’ve turned the Rocky series into a Sci-Fi/War Musical.

The fight between Apollo and Ivan is short and not-so-sweet, at least not for Mr. “Dancing Destroyer – King of Sting – Count of Monte Cristo – Master of Disaster”.  Just like in Rocky III, there is a death (this time it’s Creed).  And just like its predecessor, Rocky uses it as fuel for his comeback match.  And just like its previous effort, there’s a training regime out of Rocky’s element.  So if you compare the two films, instead of Mickey, we have Apollo dying and instead of Mr. T, we have Lundgren.  Instead of “in da hood”, we have “in the Siberian snow”.  And instead of “Eye of the Tiger”, we have “Hearts on Fire”.

I want to take a moment to talk about Adrian’s character here, too.  So, in the first film, she’s finally found love with Rocky and you can tell that she will stand by him no matter what, from Paulie’s abusive ways to his fights in the ring.  Even when she wakes up from a coma in the second film, the first thing she tells Rocky is to “WIN!”  Then, Rocky loses his mentor in the next film, but even then she stands by him and tells him to fight through his fears.  But yet, all of a sudden, in this film she does a 180 turn and tells her husband that he can’t win?  What happened to the motivation?  Luckily, she comes to her senses when she realizes that her words only drive Rocky out of America and into Russia and she decides to follow him…which only begs the question who is watching their son, Rocky Jr, but who really cares because we find out in the next film that he has super-aging powers beyond the scope of mankind.

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And so after all the robotic elements and musical interludes, we arrive to the final fight – Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago….in the Soviet Union….on December 25th….because if there’s one thing this film has not hit yet, it’s that it’s a heartwarming Science Fiction War Christmas Musical!  The fight between these two is actually not badly choreographed…it’s the other elements around it that is somewhat perplexing.  For example, what’s with Paulie deciding to rub on Duke’s (Poor Tony Burton’s) head?  Is Duke a secret genie?  Did Paulie break up with Robo-Maid?  And we go back and forth between a heart-pounding fight and three kids, supervised by a talking robot, jumping on a bed.  And then there’s the Mikhail Gorbachev look-alike under the dome lights…but my favorite part is the audience.  From completely booing our beloved hero at the beginning of the fight, they turn in a matter of a few rounds (or 8 minutes of screen time) to cheer him on over one of their own countrymen because….again, why?

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And then of course…there’s the heartwarming speech that ends it all where we find out that if we can change and Rocky can change…and Russia can change….and Ivan can change….and robots can change…then we can all change.  And with those words, Rocky ends the Cold War, eventually leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the presidency of the Bush Administration.

FINAL GRADE:  D

What are your thoughts on Rocky IV?  Do you agree or disagree?  Do you consider it a guilty pleasure?  Hit me with a comment either way and next week, I’ll be reviewing Rocky V.

 

 

What We Do: Wear Styles That Define Us

Through the decades, we’ve been defined by our actions, our attitudes, our ancestry, and most frequently as the years progress, by our looks – whether it be our bodies or our height and weight.  While we should never be judged by our God-given bodies, there is a case to be made for style and wear.

Through the last few decades, we’ve gone through eras with the invention of jeans, bell-bottoms, leather jackets, punk-wear…all of which have significantly pointed to certain historical times in our own lives, most notably in our youth.

Today’s day and age allows us to wear whatever we want and indicate to the world around us who we are.

  1. Where We Come From

T-Shirts can be emblazoned with any slogan or saying that we want.  People wear shirts with an American flag on it to show the world they’re American.  People wear shirts with landmarks and landscapes to mark the beauty of where they lived.  Here in the states, people wear clothing of all types, but others are proud to wear traditional dresses and attires that mark their legacy – think of an Indian Sari or the beautiful styled African wear from different regions of the country.

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  1. The Sports and Teams We Love

One of my favorite events to watch is the Olympics, whether it’s Winter or Summer because it’s a gathering of nations worldwide.  When you take one look around the crowd, you can see multiple flags waving, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see their clothes match their favorite star or home team – a track suit ornamented with Jamaican colors like Usain Bolt or a jersey of the French soccer team.

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  1. The Music We Listen To

It isn’t only concerts where we show our musical fandom, but when we’re comfortable in our own homes or go to a party, we want the world to know the type of music we are into.  From “Grateful Dead” fans to rocking sideburns a la Elvis, we’ve dressed and appeared as our favorite musical acts for years.

deadhead  nirvana

  1. The Way We Perceive Ourselves

I have known people to wear suits around town, even when they’re not going to a formal event.  Why?  Most likely because they want the world to perceive them as being successful.  I’ve known people to wear pajamas on a weekday afternoon because they want the world to know they’re comfortable wherever they go.  We perceive the world certain ways from what they wear…if you’re wearing a “Harley Davidson” leather jacket, we perceive them as a certain type….teenagers wearing “ripped jeans” get a certain reputation, as do fit men with cut-off shirt sleeves.  So how do you want the world to see you?

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What else do our clothes tell us about ourselves or others?  How are we defined by our style and is it accurate to who we really are?  Leave a comment and let us know.

What We Do: Host a Movie Marathon!

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A few years ago, binging a TV show was not really possible (unless you taped every episode on a VHS tape like I did with reruns of Quantum Leap).  Nowadays, it’s the norm for many households to watch all the episodes of one season in a day or two, especially with many TV shows being released on a popular streaming service, like Netflix or Hulu.  But with the inclusion of the “TV Show Binge”, out went the days of holding a “Movie Marathon”.

There are benefits, though, to watching several movies in a row over a day or two, or over a course of a few weeks.  With the working world, it may not be possible to watch a movie or two a day, but it’s always possible to watch one or two over a weekend.  So how to start?

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First, decide whether you want to do it alone or invite friends over.  Personally, I usually enjoy watching them alone or with one or two other people.  Adding a whole group of people is fun for a short “film-a-thon” (2 or 3 movies in a day), but if you’re expecting someone to stay for hours or even commit to several movies over the course of a few weeks, it may not work.  And then people will be lost and confused for any plot lines they missed.  So my suggestion is to stick to 1 to 3 people.

Second, make sure you have working equipment – whether you’re watching them on a DVD player, Blu-ray player or some other device.  Nothing can be more frustrating when you’re watching and all of a sudden, there’s a technical glitch that shuts everything down.  If your TV is old or you’re DVDs are known to skip in your player, you may want to hold the marathon somewhere else or hold off for another day.

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Next, what kind of a “Movie Marathon” are you going to hold?  There are several different ways of going about it:

  • By Actor/Actress: An actor with a short filmography, like James Dean, could be completed in one day, but if you’re selecting someone like John Wayne or Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep, it could go longer.
  • By Series: Go small, like a “Young Guns” double feature or a “Back to the Future” Trilogy or big, like watching all 26 James Bond films from “Dr. No” to “Spectre” (and if you include all the spoofs and TV versions, it could go even longer.)
  • By other cast/crew: You could go into other areas, too – like watching “Stephen King” films, or films with James Horner music or all the films that had a certain gaffer in its crew (although now we’re bordering on some strange obsession you may have.)
  • By a Book or list: Some people love to go by recommended lists – “1000 Movies to Watch Before You Die” or the “IMDB Top 250 List”.
  • By Country: And if you’re a fan of foreign films, like myself, you could choose the 100 greatest Japanese films or a similar idea.

rebel

Honestly, the choices are endless as you can go by film era (Silent era), genre (Romantic Comedies), award winners (Best Picture Winners), theme (Underdog films), etc.

Also, on a final note, if you’re going to watch a movie based on the actor or director or a series, the best way to do it is probably chronologically.  I know it’s somewhat self-explanatory, but sometimes people may not want to watch that “bad-reviewed” film.  (I mean, honestly, if you’re holding a “Superman” marathon, who really wants to relive “Superman IV”?).  But there’s a lot of perks to watching in order.  One is you get to see an actor’s growth.  Another thing is you get to see how a filmmaker may have learned from past mistakes.  (Maybe….)

There are really no rules.  I mean, it’s your movie marathon!  So enjoy it and make it memorable.  Happy Viewing!

Flash Fiction: The Encounter

The boy looked down into the water, his eyes fixing onto the large gray boulder-shaped object at the bottom of the lake.  He didn’t want to believe that it could be him.  It was impossible.  Hadn’t he just spoken with him twenty minutes ago at the guiding posts by the entrance of the park?  He remembered….he had taken hold of the leather jacket as he had brushed by him and for a minute, their eyes had met and a sense of an awkward feeling had kicked in – his heart beating rapidly as a past memory flashed in his mind.

“Wait!” the boy had called out.

The man in the leather jacket had disappeared, though.  Among the throng of all these people, he would be hard to spot again.  I am not running, the boy thought to himself.  But what if….

“No, forget it,” he said to himself.

He quickly put the thought out of his mind and continued walking, hands in his pocket.  He saw other kids his age, some running towards the water spouts in the middle of the park.  He could see the joy on the faces of these kids, a sensation he had been missing for years, but one he was hoping would be reborn again soon.  Some of the parents were laughing with others, marveling at the  bliss of the summer day’s thrills.

He could see the paint on some of the kids’ faces, visages of tigers and rabbits, superheroes and supervillains.  In the midst of all the masked expressions, the boy saw one that was darker than the others, bones and skulls painted on his cheeks and forehead, a look that frightened him.  Behind it, their eyes locked again.  This time, the boy ran after the man.  Scampering as quick as possible, he tried to keep up with the man’s elongated strides.

“Stop!” the boy shouted.  But the man kept moving forward, swiftly zig-zagging around the crowds.  Many people began to move to the side, their eyes fastened onto the scene in front of them.  Some were quickly pulling their children close to their bodies, embracing them from the dangerous peril in front of their eyes.

The boy was growing tired – he could feel it.  Soon, the man would once again be free.  With his breathing struggling to open up, the boy stopped.  He heard murmurs growing from the left side of him and saw a crowd beginning to gather.  The boy stared over and wondered what was hidden beyond the wall of the onlookers.  Slowly, he gathered himself and walked over.  He brushed people slightly apart, his heart beginning to rise in beats.

The crowd’s eyes followed him as he slowly made his way towards the bank of the lake, a leather jacket sitting on top.  An awkward silence followed the sounds of the waves of the lake hitting the embankment.  The boy’s eyes looked down.  The boy’s eyes rested on his father’s facial features, ignoring the harpoon that had struck the shark that suffocated the man to his final resting place in the depths of the shallow water.

(Today’s story was based on the Daily Prompt:  Click Here! )

 

10 Great Charlie Chaplin Films

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.

 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.