Charlie Chaplin is by far one of the most recognizable faces of cinema, and this is surely due to the sheer volume of well-received films he was involved in during his lifetime. Chaplin starred in more than 80 films, most of which were silent and 40 of which were filmed in 1914.
The following year Chaplin added another 15 releases to his name, and throughout his career branched out tackling directorial, writing and acting rolls. Nearly all of Chaplin’s work involved very visual comedy routines, so it’s silent films and slapstick comedy we’ll be focusing on today!
Making A Living (1914) [IMDB]
Marking Chaplin’s first appearance on film, Making A Living was released in 1914 and sees the slapstick icon playing a swindler who accepts a job as a reporter. After witnessing a car fly over a cliff, Chaplin’s character steals a rival reporter’s photograph of the event in a bid to pass it off as his own.
The two reporters become entangled in a plot to retrieve the photograph, eventually ending in typical slapstick style. I won’t spoil it, but if you are a big Chaplin fan then you’ll probably want to see his first outing on the silver screen.
Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) [IMDB]
Notable for being the first film to feature Chaplin’s “Tramp” character, Kid Auto Races at Venice is another comedy of errors from the silent film era. When Charlie visits the Venice race track in California he manages to anger thousands of fans and the racers themselves with his usual slapstick antics.
One particular running joke involves a film crew who are attempting to film the race. Nearly every shot they capture is ruined by Chaplin unwittingly walking in front of the camera, finally climaxing in a funny Chaplin-esque confrontation.
The Pawnshop (1916) [IMDB]
One of Chaplin’s more popular titles, The Pawnshop stars Charlie as a shop assistant eager to compete with another member of staff with disastrous consequences. The “bull in a china shop” cliche would apply fairly well to his character here, as he destroys nearly everything around him in some way or another.
Of course there’s more to it than that, and seeing as this film is still viewed favorably today it would make a great introduction to the world of silent film, slapstick comedy and the great Charlie Chaplin.
A Dog’s Life (1918) [IMDB]
Another outing for Charlie’s “Tramp” character and another very favorably viewed Chaplin film, A Dog’s Life is a touching tale of a street tramp and his dog’s fight for survival in the inner city. Charlie’s character lives in a vacant lot, and after attempting to get a job and failing he manages to rescue Scraps, a dog being attacked by other strays.
The two form an instant bond which takes them on a journey around the city, stealing sausages and encountering crooks. This film is both easy to watch and particularly engaging (especially if you love dogs!) and despite its age is still guaranteed to entertain you today.
The Kid (1921) [IMDB]
In his first full-length roll as a director (also having written the film and starring as the lead character) Chaplin’s “Tramp” finds himself caring for an abandoned child. The opening title of the film is “a comedy with a smile – and perhaps a tear” which couldn’t ring more true as slapstick meets tragedy head-on.
Considering this is Chaplin’s full-length directorial debut he did extremely well to ensure a product of such high quality that’s still loved today.
The Gold Rush (1925) [IMDB]
Another return for the “Tramp”, Charlie ventures to Alaska in search of employment and gold. Whilst there he predictably manages to frustrate and become entangled with the wrong crowd, eventually falling in love.
Another particularly well-regarded film, Chaplin himself declared that this is the film he would most like to be remembered for, and now that it’s freely available online then I think that’s far more likely!
City Lights (1931) [IMDB]
Probably the most highly-regarded film on this list, City Lights sees the “Tramp” character falling in love with a beauitful blind girl in this genuinely funny and moving silent film. Released a few years after the arrival of “talkies”, the film still did extremely well and was named by greats Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky as one of the best films ever made.
Does it really need much more of an introduction than that?
Silent films are truly a product of the past, a lesson in film-making, direction and early moving picture techniques. Not only are the films themselves highly watchable, funny and at times moving but also important from a historical and cultural standpoint. The phrase “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to” well-and-truly applies to Chaplin and his unique brand of comedy.
Any favorite Chaplin films? Any favorite silent films? Share your thoughts and links in the comments below.