Charles Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936)

Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936)

  • Born: 1889
  • Died: 1977
  • Rank: 23
  • Score: 666.85
  • Feature Films: 11
  • Best: Modern Times
  • Worst: A King in New York

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Modern Times – 1936
  2. The Great Dictator – 1940
  3. City Lights – 1931
  4. The Gold Rush – 1925
  5. The Circus – 1928

Top 10 Best Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • pre-1926 – 5th – The Gold Rush
  • 1927-28 – 5th – The Circus
  • 1930-31 – 1st – City Lights
  • 1936 – 1st – Modern Times
  • 1940 – 3rd – The Great Dictator
  • 1972 – 9th – Limelight

Was there ever a more talented person in Hollywood than Charlie Chaplin? Maybe Orson Welles and maybe not even him. In the Nighthawk Awards he wins a grand total of 17 awards. Not only is his total an amazingly high number, but they are spread out. Only 2 of them are for directing (City Lights and Modern Times). He also wins 3 for acting (Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times), 4 for writing (Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, Great Dictator), 2 for producing (City Lights, Modern Times), 2 for editing (City Lights, Modern Times) and 4 for composing (Gold Rush, Circus, City Lights, Modern Times). While people point the quadruple whammies of Actor / Director / Writer / Producer for Orson Welles and Warren Beatty, Chaplin not only gets those nominations from me and wins all 4 for both City Lights and Modern Times, but also wins for editing and composing. Was there ever anyone in film who could do so much and do it all so well?

I know that there are those people who prefer Buster Keaton, think he was a greater artist than Chaplin and Keaton was great, but I find Chaplin to be on a higher level at everything – a better writer, better director, better actor.  Keaton could maintain that stone face and be the everyman, but Chaplin could react.  Look back to The Great Dictator and the moment when the soldiers knock on the door.  Watch the way Chaplin reacts, leaping into the trunk.  There are few moments in the history of film as funny.

Chaplin began as an actor and soon started to direct his own short films.  His first two feature films as a director were both good – The Kid and A Woman of Paris, but his next film was The Gold Rush, one of the great comedies of all time.  His next film, The Circus, wasn’t great, but it was still very good, and its eclipsed by the next three films – three of the greatest comedies ever made – City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator.  After Dictator, Chaplin started to fade.  Monsieur Verdoux was very good but subversive and Limelight was also very good but had to wait 20 years for U.S. distribution and by then Chaplin was gone from the States for good, his last two films, unfortunately neither very good, made in exile before he was welcomed back by the applause at the Academy Awards, first for an honorary award, then for his first competitive Oscar – winning Best Original Score for Limelight upon its release in L.A. in 1972.

Modern Times – #1 film of 1936

When made it was the best film ever made in the United States and would remain so until The Wizard of Oz, three years later.  Even today, over 70 years later, it still ranks in the top 40 all-time.  Yet, it was a film so out of place within its own time.

Perhaps that accounts for the lack of accolades.  Modern Times, at a time when most major studio films received at least one Oscar nomination, was completely ignored.  Even though it was the first film from Charlie Chaplin in five years, a technical marvel, a brilliant comedy, they didn’t cite anything about it.

But look at what it is.  It’s an almost entirely silent film, almost 10 years after the advent of sound film.  In an era of social dramas and gangster films, it still relies on the traditional happy ending.  Chaplin continued to make use of a character that he had been developing for years, in spite of the five years absence from the big screen.  The only time the tramp actually speaks on film is while singing a song and the song is in French.

But it is such a marvel.  It is beautifully photographed.  It is wonderfully directed, with a biting social commentary.  The art direction, especially in the factory scenes, is amazing.  And it might be the best performance Chaplin ever gave on film – a beautiful combination of pathos and innocence.  And it even dared to address social issues that were relevant then, at the height of the depression, and yet still make people laugh.