b. 16 April 1889, Walworth, London, England, UK

d. 25 December 1977, Vevey, Switzerland

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Charles ChaplinWhen one views Kid Auto Races at Venice, a 1914 Keystone film that runs a scant six minutes, and sees the familiar image of Charlie Chaplin’s little tramp enter the scene, it remains as galvanizing as it must have been for audiences of its own era who were seeing this image for the first time. Amidst the auto race festivities, where onlookers are enjoying the event, the little tramp waddles into the camera range of newsreel photographers. The newsreel director continually shoves him out of the way, but the tramp is undaunted. He continues to find ways to get himself on camera, obscuring the image of the event by walking in front of the lens and standing in various poses. It is a brilliant exercise in absurdist comedy and it effectively revolutionized the motion-picture industry.

Comedy now had a saviour. The little tramp was similar to the early 20th century American immigrants in the audience: curious, attempting to find a way into the action and curtly shoved aside.

Charles Spencer Chaplin came to Mack Sennett’s Keystone studios in 1914 after a rough childhood on the streets of London and subsequent success as a young man in the English Music Halls. Chaplin developed an understanding of comic characterization and presentation as the star of Fred Karno’s acting troupe. When the Karno troupe toured America, Chaplin received an offer from Sennett. Intrigued by the thought of putting his comedy on film, Chaplin accepted.

Sennett started out at the old Biograph studios, working with D. W. Griffith and learning a bit about quick edits before embarking on his own productions. Sennett’s popular comedy films of the early teens were aggressive slapstick farces filled with wild knockabout gags. Through these primitive methods, an important training ground was provided for the likes of Roscoe Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Charley Chase and Harold Lloyd, all of whom were eventually able to take what they learned from Sennett and explore their own creative ideas at other studios.

Kid Auto Races at Venice

Chaplin’s arrival at Keystone was inauspicious and his first film, Making a Living (Henry Lehrman, 1914), was a sub-standard Keystone farce with Chaplin barely recognizable under a top hat and sporting a long, straight moustache. While it has been discovered that Mabel’s Strange Predicament (Lehrman and Sennett, 1914) was Chaplin’s second Keystone film, it was released after his third, Kid Auto Races at Venice (Lehrman, 1914), making the latter the first time audiences saw the little tramp character. Its impact was immediate and subsequent Chaplin films rapidly grew in popularity.

Chaplin had auteurist desires early on, resulting in creative clashes with directors Henry Lehrman and George Nichols. Chaplin was then put into the hands of Mabel Normand, whose status as the first female film director has been given unfairly little attention in the annals of movie history. Chaplin balked at being directed by a woman several years younger than he and walked off the set. Expecting to be fired by Sennett (Normand was not only the darling of the lot, but Sennett’s girlfriend), Chaplin was surprised by the conciliatory mood by which he was met upon arriving at the studio the following day. Apparently, Sennett received notes from a myriad of exhibitors to send more films with Chaplin, as they had immediately become hugely popular with moviegoers.

Finally allowed to direct himself, Chaplin was now able to explore different ideas for his little tramp character. While he had some measure of creative freedom, the budget-minded Sennett allowed little time to experiment, wanting to rush his films to exhibitors. So, within a short time frame, Chaplin was able to create the equivalent of a film per week and still experiment with the possibilities that the new medium had to offer.

It has become a bit difficult to chart Chaplin’s growth as a comedian and filmmaker during his 1914 stint at Keystone. The Keystone films were endlessly re-issued and re-edited over the years, to the point where now, in the 21st century, we’re frequently limited to haggard prints by which we must attempt to measure something so important as Chaplin’s early development as a film director. A massive restoration of the Chaplin Keystones by the British Film Institute is being undertaken as this essay is being written, which will be tremendously beneficial for future studies.

Chaplin’s self-directed films maintain his graceful performance of clever gag situations, but slowly a more human element becomes evident. Initial Chaplin-directed comedies like Caught in the Rain, Laughing Gas and The Rounders offer good rowdy entertainment in the Keystone tradition, the latter benefiting from Chaplin teaming up with Roscoe Arbuckle, perhaps the second most important comedian on the Keystone lot at that time. But what was most impressive about Chaplin’s initial self-directed Keystones was his approach as a director. During his tenure, Chaplin had learned the Keystone method of editing that Sennett acquired while working with D. W. Griffith. He also understood how to stage comedy scenes, after years with the Karno troupe. He had only made a handful of films up to this point, but Chaplin had an instinct for how a scene would play. He was very precise in his direction of other actors, and his finished films were clear in how they revealed Chaplin’s command of using editing to properly assemble the scenes and propel the narrative.

The New Janitor

By the time Chaplin made The New Janitor, his films presented a discernible evolution into character that went beyond his already established rapport with the audience. Chaplin realized that the little tramp could be a character of substance, even in a one-reel comedy, if plot structure was allowed to be central to the film, while the slapstick gags were used to augment the story.

In The New Janitor, Charlie is fired from his janitorial job for accidentally dropping a bucket of water over the boss’s head. An employee is caught stealing by a secretary and, when the thief attacks the woman, she buzzes the janitor. Although he has been dismissed, Charlie answers the call, hoping that perhaps he is to be reinstated. He foils the robbery and rescues the woman. The little tramp is presented as both victim and hero in the same one-reel comedy. This is significant, as Chaplin would later explore further possibilities with this idea, continuing to perfect it.

As he investigated different presentations of his on-screen character, Chaplin also continued to explore the filmmaking process. His Musical Career, featuring Charlie and a co-worker attempting to deliver a bulky piano, is interesting in its use of much fewer edits, twenty-seven shots in its entire one-reel running time (the average number for a typical Keystone is around 90), and for its being a portent to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s Oscar-winning classic The Music Box (James Parrott, 1932).

Dough and Dynamite, made once Chaplin’s films graduated to two reels in length, is an outrageous slapstick farce set in a bakery. Here Chaplin creates his funniest comedy to date by delving completely into the slapstick trappings for which Keystone had become famous. The props necessary caused Chaplin to exceed his budget by $800, forcing Sennett to withhold the comedian’s $25 directorial fee. This was for naught, as Dough and Dynamite became the most successful Chaplin film to that time. It was followed a few films later by the situational marital comedy His Trysting Place, which shows a continued maturity even in its slapstick rowdiness that effectively put Chaplin clearly ahead of all other comedians.

Chaplin left Keystone for The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company at the end of 1914, after completing the offbeat role of a wily city slicker in Tillie’s Punctured Romance, a Sennett-directed farce that has achieved some status as being the cinema’s first feature-length comedy. Chaplin wanted $1000 per week to remain with Keystone, but Sennett indicated that was more than he himself was making. Sennett countered with an offer of $450 per week, only $50 more than Chaplin had already been making, but Essanay promised $1250 per week, a signing bonus of $10,000 and the freedom to spend more time on creating each film (Chaplin’s Keystones were being made at a rate of one per week, Essanay promised to allow a full month). Accepting this offer, Chaplin was now the highest-paid actor in cinema, warranted by his box-office success. By this time, Chaplin’s image had extended beyond the popularity of his films and had entered popular culture via comic books and songs, even a dance called the Charlie Chaplin Two-Step. Often Chaplin films would not even be advertised at theatres by title. They would simply show a poster of Chaplin with the words, “He’s Here Today”. It was a level of stardom heretofore unprecedented in the infant film medium.

Chaplin’s work as a filmmaker continued to progress with his first Essanay effort, appropriately titled His New Job (1915). Immediately one notices the customary sadistic slapstick being crowded by moments of greater subtlety, something he had attempted to do in his better Keystone films. His New Job opens with Charlie entering a studio personnel department. He is looking for some form of hands-on construction work, but the waiting area includes potential actors as well as potential labourers. He takes a seat next to an attractive woman, who acknowledges him with a friendly smile. Noticing this, Chaplin casually lifts his chair and places it closer to the woman.

With this opening sequence, we see the first discernible change in Charlie. Rather than approaching the attractive woman in the manner of the boisterous Keystone tramp, Charlie is now delicately moving closer to the lady, while trying to maintain a certain level of dignity and nonchalance. He avoids calling attention to what he is doing so as not to result in an embarrassing situation.

Chaplin’s second Essanay film, A Night Out, is fascinating in the way he directs his characters, something that would stand out in each ensuing Essanay production. Chaplin had a very distinct vision as to how each character would be presented, and his exacting methods of direction would sometimes cause chagrin among the actors whose improvisational ideas were thwarted by their director’s puppet-like manipulating of their performances. But Chaplin the auteur knew precisely what he wanted as demonstrated in how the actors play off of one another.

By his third Essanay film, The Champion, Chaplin realized his presentation of Charlie was most successful when given more depth of character. This film’s opening shot shows a downtrodden Charlie sharing a frankfurter with his bulldog companion. Despite their strata in life, both Charlie and the dog have maintained some level of dignity in that the canine refuses to eat the frankfurter until it is properly seasoned. It is a warm, charming scene that establishes the character of Charlie for the entirety of the film.

Chaplin’s cinematic breakthrough is probably as much A Jitney Elopement as it is the oft-lauded The Tramp. Chaplin had, up to now, essentially been revisiting Keystone ideas and perfecting them. His New Job recalls The Property Man, and A Night Out is clearly inspired by The Rounders. But with A Jitney Elopement, his fifth for Essanay, Chaplin goes beyond mere nuance or refinement of Keystone situations to present an original idea that is far more subtle and substantial than his earlier work. A Jitney Elopement is much more polished in its approach than any other Chaplin film to this point. Slapstick is at a minimum; characters and situations drive the humour. The car chase that concludes the film may be considered part of the Keystone influence, but Chaplin choreographs the bobbing, weaving, and near misses of the vehicles like a veritable ballet.

The Tramp

The Tramp is indeed a milestone, but not without the progression offered by Chaplin’s Essanay tenure up to this point. It does not appear out of nowhere. It is not even, essentially, a culmination since further strides were made in ensuing Essanay productions. The Tramp may very well be Chaplin’s finest film to this point in his career, but its conception is evident through all of the films that lead up to it.

The tramp is again both victim and hero, assisting a farm girl who has been accosted by ruffians, and later leaving her when discovering she has a beau. The final shot of the tramp walking away from the girl, away from the camera, has become one of the many iconic images in Chaplin’s cinema. It is more impressive that Chaplin does not simply end the film on a down note. After a few steps, Charlie suddenly shakes himself off and changes his stride to a jauntier gait, confidently prepared for whatever misadventure he will next encounter.

A reworking of The New Janitor, The Bank is another of Chaplin’s finest form this period, maintaining the successful streak of consistently brilliant efforts he had been producing for Essanay since A Jitney Elopement. Charlie is again a janitor in a bank, only this time his foiling of a robbery, and saving a woman by whom he is smitten, is revealed to be nothing more than a fantasy. There is more of an emotional centre to the character and the situation. Even journalists whose intellectual manifestos had dismissed Chaplin as vulgar began noticing that his latest comedies offered much more than the purely visceral experience of slapstick gags.

Another of the very best Essanay productions, A Night in the Show allows Chaplin to revisit his music-hall roots and to embellish an established sketch from his past. Chaplin plays two roles in this film, neither being the familiar little tramp. Chaplin alternates between Mr. Rowdy, who lives up to his name in the balcony seats at a vaudeville show, and Mr. Pest, a pretentious sort whose wealth allows him a closer seat but whose manner is no better than the low-level patrons seated above. The two roles finally meet when Mr. Rowdy turns a fire hose on the audience and the performers. With the two alter egos he plays in A Night in the Show, Chaplin investigates characters that would likely be the little tramp’s adversaries.

Chaplin’s success caused him to consider making a film at feature length. “Life”, Chaplin shot a few scenes, but was forced to put this production aside to maintain his rather gruelling schedule of producing short comedies.

Charlie Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen

With his Burlesque on Carmen, Chaplin attempted a direct parody of two popular screen versions of Georges Bizet’s story. Casting himself as Darn Hosiery and frequent co-star Edna Purviance in the title role, Chaplin made his most intelligent and ambitious film to date. However, his leaving Essanay for the Mutual Film Corporation in 1916 caused the studio to withhold the release of his Carmen burlesque until they could pad it out to double its length with extraneous footage directed by actor Leo White and featuring comedian Ben Turpin in some unrelated scenes. When Burlesque on Carmen was finally released, it was not the way Chaplin had prepared it. The studio’s interference had expanded it from a tightly structured two-reeler into a bloated, confusing four-reeler. Chaplin sought an injunction against its release, but lost. For decades the only version of Burlesque on Carmen was the later four-reel version. In the late 1990s, archivist David Shepard reconstructed Chaplin’s original two-reel edit using the filmmaker’s notes as a guideline. The difference is extraordinary in what it reveals about Chaplin’s abilities after less than two years in the film industry. His understanding of comic satire, and his staging of each scene as a direct parody of headier productions, shows a remarkable command of the film medium.

This would not be the last time Essanay tampered with Chaplin footage. In 1918, a full two years after Chaplin had left the studio, Essanay dug up the unused footage from the abandoned “Life” project, and again had Leo White shoot new footage and include the Chaplin scenes. Releasing it as Triple Trouble, a new Chaplin film, Essanay founder George Spoor even went so far as to publicize it in interviews as a complete Chaplin creation they had been withholding from release. Remembering the debacle of his Burlesque on Carmen protests, Chaplin sought no litigation. And while Triple Trouble is a pastiche with little value, it does allow us to see the scenes Chaplin shot for what would have been his first feature, footage that would very likely have been destroyed if not for Essanay’s choice to devour one of its own.

Upon joining the Mutual Film Corporation in 1916, Chaplin’s salary had risen to $670,000 per year, and he was given even greater creative freedom. While Essanay studio heads allowed him far more time to arrive upon creative inspiration than Keystone had, there were still concerns about pleasing exhibitors who were clamouring for more Chaplin product. When Chaplin took extra time to complete The Tramp, for instance, he had to condense his next production by one reel, literally half, to meet the distribution schedule. However, at Mutual there was no such schedule. Chaplin could take all the time he needed to create, and to perfect, his cinematic ideas. His penchant for retakes increased, and even the slightest nuance was filmed repeatedly until it was exactly as Chaplin had envisioned.

In Kevin Brownlow’s brilliant documentary, The Unknown Chaplin (1983), some rare discarded footage from the Mutual productions is presented. Chaplin’s perfectionism was at such a level, entire scenes were reworked, reshot and, often, ultimately jettisoned for an entirely new idea. One delightful sequence, originally shot for The Cure, shows Charlie as a bellhop in a health spa where there is a veritable traffic jam of wheelchairs, forcing Charlie to act as a traffic cop. Despite how carefully played and amusing this scene is, it does not appear in the finished film. Chaplin, in fact, casts Charlie as an inebriated health spa patient rather than as a bellboy.

The twelve two-reel comedies Chaplin made for Mutual could represent his finest work, and it is fascinating to observe his working methods during what he would forever remember as his happiest time in motion pictures.

Chaplin’s first Mutual film, The Floorwalker (1916), required the expense of building an entire department store set, including a rather new invention known as the escalator, or moving staircase, which was brilliantly used as a comic prop. While it was expensive for a two-reeler, the box-office receipts for The Floorwalker far exceeded its production costs. Short comedies were made to play along with a feature film at the theatres. Chaplin’s stardom was such that his two-reelers performed on their own, with continuous showings throughout the day and night, and at full admission prices.

Of his other notable Mutual productions, The Vagabond (1916) shows Chaplin again exploring comedy through drama, improving upon similar films like A New Janitor, The Tramp and The Bank (all 1916). One A.M. (1916) is a magnificent tour-de-force in which Chaplin appears as a wealthy man who arrives home inebriated, and simply wants to go upstairs and put himself to bed. The result is a series of battles with inanimate objects, allowing Charlie to respond to basic props like a ticking clock pendulum and an animal skin rug. It is a one-man show (the only other cast member is Albert Austin in a non-speaking role as Charlie’s chauffeur at the very beginning of the movie). Upon the basic premise of a drunken Charlie going up to bed, Chaplin finds a myriad of creative ways to respond to the objects in his household. The result is a most fascinating piece of work.

The Immigrant

Perhaps the two best Mutual films are Easy Street (1917) and The Immigrant (1917). The former features the diminutive Charlie, smitten by a mission worker (played by frequent leading lady Edna Purviance), joining the police force in a rough neighbourhood that is ruled by a massive beast of a man (equally frequent nemesis, Eric Campbell). Chaplin overpowers him with his wits, emerging triumphant and pleasing the movie-going audience. The Immigrant confronts the mistreatment of persons coming to America from other countries. Showing the people as bewildered innocents who are casually roped into a huddle before being allowed to depart from the ship, Chaplin frightened more conservative exhibitors who felt such a serious subtext would mar his comedy. The public and critics responded favourably. It would not be the last time Chaplin would have the courage to make statements through the use of humour.

By the end of his Mutual tenure, after a mere three years in movies, Chaplin had gone from knockabout farce to humorous interpretations of sensitive subjects. He had allowed the little tramp to evolve into a character with depth and substance. He challenged the film medium to the extent of inspiring other comedians and filmmakers, including some who made a career out of pure imitation.

Upon leaving Mutual to join First National Pictures in 1918, Chaplin investigated the possibility of doing a feature-length production, something he had started at Essanay a few years earlier. After a few short films during the 1918-19 season, including A Dog’s Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918), A Day’s Pleasure (1919) and Sunnyside (1919), Chaplin released The Kid (1920), which some believe to be his masterpiece.

In our haste to examine this important milestone in Chaplin’s career, we must not overlook the short films that precede it. Shoulder Arms is an especially great army comedy, made just prior to armistice. Some warned Chaplin that releasing a war satire before the battle had been won would be in poor taste. Chaplin persevered, as the men he most wanted to please, the soldiers in the trenches, were among the film’s most passionate supporters.

The Kid

A Dog’s Life is significant as being something of a portent to The Kid. The shorter film features Chaplin and a former stray dog as companions, while the feature has him finding an abandoned baby and raising it as his own. While A Dog’s Life is an excellent merging of moving sentiment and raucous comedy, The Kid takes this approach to another level entirely. Culminating from Chaplin’s many attempts to find comedy within tragedy, The Kid shows the little tramp as resourceful and responsible despite his financial limitations, battling orphanage officials with the fierceness of a mother wolf protecting her brood. Chaplin showed a real flair for being able to blend comedy and drama cohesively as far back as Keystone and A New Janitor, his various experimenting leading up to this feature. In the structure of The Kid, a particularly moving scene would be immediately followed by a wildly funny gag, while never losing any sense of rhythm. It was a daunting exercise and comes off perfectly.

Chaplin fully entered into independent film production upon forming the United Artists Corporation with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, allowing him to assume complete control over his product as the ultimate auteur. A Woman of Paris (1922), a straight drama in which Chaplin appears only in a brief cameo, was originally his attempt to find a starring vehicle for long-time co-star Edna Purviance, whom he believed was getting too matronly for comic roles. However, the true significance of this dramatic feature was how it challenged established ideas in Hollywood narrative film of the period. Screen drama during the early 1920s was filled with selfless mother figures, clearly defined heroes and stereotypical villains. Chaplin presents the hero in A Woman of Paris as a mother-dominated weakling; the villain is witty and charming. The rigidity of the parents is the cause for the story’s eventual tragic outcome.

With his direction of the actors, Chaplin effectively replaces the broad gestures by which so much of screen drama had been represented. Chaplin believed that human beings would naturally hide their emotions. This penchant for realism, and the understated performances of his actors, redefined acting in dramatic cinema, just as his short films had brought screen comedy to another level.

Most film scholars believe that Chaplin’s greatest period came during the next few years, when he made his best feature-length productions. This is debatable, as these more refined films tend to be missing the comic edge of the Mutual period, but their status as classics is certainly deserved.

Chaplin once called The Gold Rush (1925) the film by which he wanted to be remembered. Filled with iconic images – from the cabin teetering over the snowy pass, to a hungry Charlie attempting to make a meal out of his shoe – The Gold Rush is a truly fulfilling cinematic experience, as Chaplin once again deftly mixes humour and pathos.

The Circus (1928) is frequently overlooked in studies of Chaplin’s films, as it rests between two bona fide classics in The Gold Rush and City Lights (1931). This is unfortunate as The Circus may very well be Chaplin’s funniest feature-length film. Its concentration more on gags and gag situations than the other features from this period may be the reason for the neglect it has received. Chaplin was first and foremost a comedian, despite his ability being at such a level that he incorporated facets from other genres into his work. The Circus reminds us that, despite some artistic pretensions that played out successfully, Chaplin had not forgotten, nor forsaken, his comic roots and is quite capable of putting together a brilliantly funny feature-length comedy.

When the talking picture revolution hit the industry in the late 1920s, studios sought to confront the new technology. Comedian Harold Lloyd, for instance, withdrew his 1929 silent feature, Welcome Danger, and hastily re-edited it as a sound film, reshooting some scenes and dubbing in others. Chaplin, however, had the clout to refuse to embrace sound films, believing that his little tramp character would cease to be an international Everyman if given a specific language.

City Lights

City Lights was a silent feature made well after the industry had completely embraced sound films. By this time, silent movies were dismissed as archaic, even to the point where clips of classics from only ten years before were being dubbed with derisive narration and sold as comedies. However, this did not hamper the box-office success of City Lights. Chaplin’s stardom remained at such an extraordinary level, his releasing a silent picture during this period met with tremendous success. This dramatic story of the little tramp’s affection for and attempts to help a blind flower girl was embraced as an artistic triumph.

The success of City Lights warranted yet another silent even further into the talking picture era. Modern Times (1936) had the little tramp at odds with modern technology, the victim of the modern day machinery that were supposed to be improvements on industry. It could have been a veiled attack on the technology of sound film production, but Chaplin did use synchronized music and effects, as he had for City Lights, composing the soundtrack himself. Some believe the loose structure of Modern Times makes it appear as if it were four barely related two-reelers rather than a full-length feature production. But what Modern Times does have is the comic edge that had been most effective during the Mutual period, as Chaplin confronts the industrial age as he had challenged immigration in The Immigrant twenty years earlier.

In 1940, Chaplin conceded his battle with sound film production by releasing The Great Dictator. Attacking the Nazi régime of Adolf Hitler, whose contempt for Chaplin had been documented years earlier, The Great Dictator is outstanding in that it uses sound so effectively. Chaplin casts himself in two roles: as a meek Jewish barber and as the relentless dictator of another country. In the former role, Chaplin films army footage where an explosion causes enough smoke to blacken the screen. The little barber wanders about calling out to his fellow soldiers amidst this fog. So, for a few seconds, Chaplin does a complete reversal by presenting sound with no picture. Pantomime is not eschewed, especially during a noted scene when the dictator does a veritable ballet with a balloon like globe, only to have it blow up in his face, reducing him to angry tears.

There are those who have respect for Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Chaplin’s second sound film and perhaps his most daring. As the title character, a murderous bluebeard who is sent to the gallows at the film’s conclusion, Chaplin apparently wants to draw a comparison to the systemized killing allowed by some governments versus individual murder for personal gain. It is most interesting to see how much charm Chaplin tries to put into the character of Verdoux, wanting the audience to like him despite his heinous actions. In 1974, Chaplin himself dismissed Monsieur Verdoux as “too cerebral”.

A King in New York

Chaplin revisits his music hall roots in Limelight (1952), which does contain some remarkable moments, including an outstanding sequence with him and Buster Keaton performing together on stage. Unfortunately, much of the film is overlong and repetitive. It was at this time that Chaplin was informed during a voyage overseas that he would not be allowed re-entry into the United States, due to alleged Communist leanings. He would make his next film, A King in New York (1957), in England, despite its being set in the title city.

Many Americans have considered A King in New York offensive, but it is really harmless, albeit a bit preachy. Its strongest moments are its funniest, when Chaplin concentrates on such available targets as television advertising, widescreen movies and loud music.

Chaplin’s final film was the light romantic comedy, A Countess From Hong Kong (1967), which he wrote and directed but only appeared in a brief cameo, as with A Woman of Paris forty-five years earlier. Dismissed as old-fashioned at the time of its initial release, A Countess From Hong Kong is far more palatable now than when it was released amidst the likes of Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn) and The Graduate (Mike Nichols) as American cinema ushered in an aggressive new era.

Allowed to return to America and accept an honorary Academy Award in 1972 (J. Edgar Hoover had revoked Chaplin’s re-entry permit, supposedly for “un-American activities”, after he travelled to the UK in 1952), Chaplin went back into the studio and retooled many of his films, including adding a new soundtrack to The Circus. He was knighted in 1975 and died on Christmas day in 1977.

From the flickering images of the rowdy Keystone farces to the refined feature-length classics like The Gold Rush and City Lights, Chaplin’s career was long, varied and remarkable. He was instrumental in the development of cinema during its earliest stages from a storefront novelty into a form of artistic expression. His influence on screen comedy remains substantial.


With Keystone Film Company

Making a Living
Kid Auto Races at Venice
Mabel’s Strange Predicament
Between Showers
A Film Johnnie
Tango Tangles
His Favorite Pastime
Cruel, Cruel Love
The Star Boarder
Mabel at the Wheel
Twenty Minutes of Love
Caught in a Cabaret
Caught in the Rain
A Busy Day
The Fatal Mallet
Her Friend the Bandit
The Knockout
Mabel’s Busy Day
Mabel’s Married Life
Laughing Gas
The Property Man
The Face on the Bar Room Floor
The Masquerader
His New Profession
The Rounders
The New Janitor
Those Love Pangs
Dough and Dynamite
Gentlemen of Nerve
His Musical Career
His Trysting Place
Tillie’s Punctured Romance
Getting Acquainted
His Prehistoric Past

With Essanay Film Manufacturing Co

His New Job
A Night Out
The Champion
In the Park
A Jitney Elopement
The Tramp
By the Sea
Work A Woman
The Bank
A Night in the Show

Charlie Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen

With Mutual Film Company

The Floorwalker
The Fireman
The Vagabond
One A.M
The Count
The Pawnshop
Behind the Screen
The Rink

Easy Street
The Cure
The Immigrant
The Adventurer

With First National

A Dog’s Life
The Bond
Shoulder Arms

A Day’s Pleasure

The Kid
The Idle Class

Pay Day
The Pilgrim

With United Artists

A Woman of Paris (1923)
The Gold Rush
The Circus (1928)

Sound Pictures

City Lights (1931)
Modern Times
The Great Dictator
Monsieur Verdoux
A King in New York
The Chaplin Revue
A Countess from Hong Kong

Select Bibliography

Chaplin, Charles. My Autobiography. London: The Bodley Head, 1964

Chaplin, Charles. My Life in Pictures. London: The Bodley Head, 1974

Neibaur, James L. Chaplin at Essanay: A Film Artist in Transition. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2008

Okuda, Ted and David Maska. Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2005

Robinson, David. Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985

Articles in Senses of Cinema

James L. Neibaur, “A Woman of Paris

Arthur Rankin, “Tendentious Innocence: Chaplin’s Use of Doubling in City Lights and The Idle Class

Jennie Lightweis-Goff, “Sins of Commitment: Adorno, Chaplin and Mimesis

Edgardo Cozarinsky, “Calvero’s Death

Peter von Bagh, “Portrait of an Artist as an Old man

Martyn Bamber, “The Circus

Megan Carrigy, “The Rink

Gregory Stephens “Biting Back at the Machine: Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times”

Web Resources

Charlie Chaplin: Official Website

British Film Institute feature on Charlie Chaplin

thelittlefellow.org: A Charlie Chaplin Fan Page


About The Author

James L. Neibaur is a film historian who has published over 20 books and hundreds of articles including over 40 essays in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. His books include Chaplin at Essanay, Buster Keaton’s Silent Shorts (with Terri Niemi), The Jerry Lewis Films (with Ted Okuda), The Clint Eastwood Westerns, The W.C. Fields Films, The Essential Jack Nicholson, and The Monster Movies of Universal Studios.

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