Young cinephiles who are now hooked on several streaming websites do not have much idea about the era of silent movies. When we talk about that era, one name, in particular, reverberates several times: “Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin.” A pioneer in the fields of performance, direction, and writing in silent movies, Charlie Chaplin is now considered one of the finest storytellers of all time. His life began with severe hardships, and the “Tramp” that you will find in most of his movies is not only the mouthpiece of the multitude of poverty-stricken people of the world but also a part of himself. Here is the list of 5 films that you should watch to understand the versatility of Chaplin as a performer and a storyteller.
The Great Dictator (1940)
Creating and commenting through a film about the misdeeds of Nazism in 1940 really takes courage, and Chaplin does that through his 1940 film “The Great Dictator.” He plays the dual role of an unnamed Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel, the dictator of Tomania, and is supported by actors like Jack Oakie and Paulette Goddard. “The Great Dictator” is a satire on Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler that also shows the futility of war. The iconic speech at the very end of the film, where the Jewish barber disguises himself as Hynkel and addresses the audience to put an end to war and hatred and embrace love and peace, is heart-touching. The movie was nominated for five Oscars, and interestingly, this was Chaplin’s first true sound film.
City Lights (1931)
“City Lights” (1931) has been stamped as a timeless classic that has the right amount of ingredients to take you on a rollercoaster of emotions that includes both happiness and sadness. The plot of the film centers around a Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) who falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) and wants to help her succeed in her dreams. The Tramp befriends an alcoholic millionaire, fights a boxing match, and does several other odd jobs to return to the girl. Considered to be one of the most romantic films of Chaplin, each shot is crafted with utter mastery, and the film explores the issues of class struggle, love, and poverty, which are unfortunately still true in many parts of the world today. “The City Lights,” as a silent film, was also produced as a statement in a period of transition when sound pictures were sidelining them.
Modern Times (1936)
The dehumanizing effect of industrialization along with the chaos caused by the Great Depression is perfectly captured in “Modern Times”. Chaplin plays the role of a working-class man who has become overwhelmed by the changes caused by the introduction of machines. As the story progresses, he falls in love with an orphaned girl, portrayed by Paulette Goddard, and both try to fit into this mechanical society to find happiness. Filled with slapstick comedy, the film is a social commentary on the woes of the working class, which are still valid. “Modern Times” is Chaplin’s first film to introduce brief dialogues and the last one where he portrays the character of the Tramp.
The Gold Rush (1925)
A comedic masterpiece with a tinge of romance, “The Gold Rush” explores the story of a prospector who visits the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush to strike it rich. The Tramp prospector’s part is played by Chaplin, and Big Jim McKay, who is another prospector and shares a cabin with the Tramp for some time, is played by Mack Swain. Several funny instances occur between these two, with the boiled shoe-eating scene being the most notable. A budding romance develops between the Tramp and a dance hall girl played by the actor Georgia Hale, which shows Chaplin’s ability to blend pathos with comedy flawlessly. With an iconic film score, “The Gold Rush” also highlights the issues of human loneliness and is a must-watch for cinephiles.
The Kid (1921)
A silent masterpiece, “The Kid”, marks the directorial debut of Charlie Chaplin. Before, he directed many short films, but this is the first feature-length film that explores the father-child bond, poverty, and the foster care system of the early 20th century. The story begins with the Tramp, played by Chaplin, finding an abandoned baby in a trash can. Though living in poverty, the Tramp adopts the child and raises him as the “Kid”, a role played by Jackie Coogan. You will burst out in laughter when you see the fight scene between the Tramp and a muscular man, but you will also shed tears when the police try to take the child away from the Tramp. More than 100 years old, the film is still one of the finest mouthpieces to examine human conditions.
There are many other films like “Limelight” (1952), “Monsieur Verdoux” (1947), “The Circus” (1928), and “A King in New York” (1957) that you must also see to understand the gamut of performances provided by Chaplin. But the ones mentioned in the list are the finest of the lot from the maestro. Note that all the films mentioned in this list have even been directed by Chaplin himself!