I adore Chaplin, and I feel so privileged to be able to share him with Izzy. I so wish more parents would introduce their kids to the Little Tramp. Sadly, unless you start early, kids become conditioned pretty early on to equate black and white films with dullness, and don’t even get me started on silent films!
We’ve watched a few of his shorts and feature length films over the years, and I think Izzy has been surprised every single time by how much she enjoyed them. This, however, was the best of them all. Chaplin was at the top of his game here, and there are very few gags that don’t land. Words like ‘classic’ and ‘masterpiece’ get thrown around with far too much casualness, but this film is indeed both. It has such enduring and endearing appeal.
What’s unique about this film is that it was the last of Chaplin’s silent films. He held on tenaciously to the medium even after talkies had firmly taken root. He feared that his physical routine would be overshadowed by sound. But it seemed he knew the tide had shifted irrevocably, and this film experiments in some interesting ways with synchronized sound. One character (the factory boss) is given a voice, and at the end we get a rare and delightful treat – the Little Tramp sings! It’s an entirely made up song in a nonsense language, and it’s fantastic – one of the absolute comedic highlights of an already terrifically hysterical film!
Underneath all the comedic bravado, the film is a fairly scathing critique of modern society and its impact on the individual and humanity. The Little Tramp is subjected to indignity after indignity all in the name of progress. It’s also more than a little naughty and subversive – with timely references to drug use and red baiting. And that ending – it’s both a little hopeful and kinda hopeless at the same time.
Also, I wanna give a pretty major shout out to this film’s leading lady, Paulette Goddard. She’s stunning, but for the majority of the movie she’s an absolute hot mess – complete with greasy hair and tattered dress. Her character is scrappy and defiant, gritty and determined, and I fell head over heels in love with her.
I honestly don’t have much more to say, other than, “Go watch this film with your dumb kids!” Also, here’s a great gif which shows how he achieved that remarkable roller skating bit: