Over the next 22 years the character was to be refined and elaborated: the hero of City Lights (1931) or Modern times (1936) is altogether more complex than the little Tramp of the first frantic little Sennett slapstick shorts as he scurries on one leg around corners, clutching his hat to his head while being chased by Keystone Kops or angry, bewhiskered giants. But the general lines of the character - the range of emotions from callousness to high sentiment, and of his actions of nobility to larceny, the supremely human resilience and fallibility of his nature - were fairly soon defined.
Chaplin spent 1914 at Keystone, serving a valuable apprenticeship to his art, and making 35 films. From the twelfth of these, Caught in a Cabaret, he began to take a hand in the direction, and from the twentieth Laughing Gas,, he was permanently established as his own director . Seen today these films are mostly primitive. The stock jokes involve intoxication , illicit flirtations, mallets, dentists, jealous husbands, cops, dough, dynamite, lakes to be fallen into, cars to crash, benches and boxing rings from which to fall. Already however in The New Janitor for example, Chaplin was trying out subtler skills as a storyteller and actor.
These skills were to be developed further and faster at Essanay, the company Chaplin joined in 1915 in the first of a series of much publicized changes of employer that would dramatically increase his earnings. Chaplin was at first unhappy in Essanay's Chicago studio, though he knocked out a lively little comedy about the film business aptly named His New Job (1915). When he moved to the company's West Coast studio he took with him a new cameraman, Roland Totheroh, who was to work with him for over thirty years. At Niles, California, Chaplin began to build a company around himself, and his most important discovery was Edna Purviance, a beautiful stenographer with no screen experience. She was to remain his ideal leading lady for Eight years. The warm and feminine quality of Edna's screen personality - in sharp contrast to the amusing madcap Mabel Normand - was probaly partly responsible for the growing element of romantic yearning in Chaplin's work. This was most evident in two of Chaplin's earliest Essanay films, The Tramp and The Bank (both 1915). At the same time Chaplin was becoming more ambitious - he was taking more time over his films,and goig on location. For Shanghaied (1915), he even blew up a small schooner to provide a dramatic climax. In his last film for Essanay, Police (1916), he first introduced touches of a social irony that anticipated The Kid (1921) and The Pilgrim (1923).
With Chaplin's next move, his salary soared to $10,000 a week, with extra bonuses. He spent 16 months over the 12 two-reelers he made at his Lone Star Studio for Mutual release. They were polished gag structures, mostly inspired by a situation or a location, as their titles - The Floorwalker, The Fireman, Behind the screen, The Rink, (all 1916) and The Cure (1917) - suggest. Some of them are feats of virtuosity: One a.m, is virtully a solo turn, with Charlie returning home inebriated to battle with a keyhole, a folding bed, a tigerskin rug and other domestic hazards; The Pawn Shop, (1916) includes a long unbroken take of an autopsy on a customer's alarm clock. Other films, including The Vagabond (1916) and The Immigrant (1917), exploited Chaplin's developed gifts for drama and pathos.
A new distribution agreement with First National Distributors enabled Chaplin to fulfil his ambition of building his own studio, where he was to work for the next 24 years. His contract called for eight films to be made in eighteen months; instead,they took five years, and included at least three masterpieces. The first,A Dogs Life (1918) sharpened the henceforth ever-present element of social satire, drawing parallels between the existence of the tramp and his faithful mongrel dog. Chaplin next defied accusations of bad taste in making comedy out of life at the front in World War I; the men who best knew life took Shoulders Arms (1918) to their hearts, and today Chaplin's comic metamorphosis of the war may give a more vivid sense of those days than a more solemn dramatic treatment. Sunnyside (1919) is an uncharacteristic and only modestly successful pastoral comedy. A Day's Pleasure (1919) is a delightful slice of humble life, the misadventures of a little man taking his Ford and family on an outing; one of the children in the film was played by Jackie Coogan, whose uncanny acting ability partly inspired Chaplin's next film, The Kid . Here, a melodrama about an unmarried mother and her abandoned child provides the motive for a rich comedy about the tramp's unwilling adoption of the foundling and the odd comic-pathetic bond that grows between them. After finishing the film, Chaplin decided to make a return to his homeland and to tour Europe. This was, perhaps, the peak of his career: few celebrities until this time had aroused the furore that attended every public appearance, or the adulation he received from the great men of the world.
The two films he made on his return,The Idle Class (1921), a slapstick situation comedy with Chaplin in two roles, and Payday (1922), another slice-of-life comedy in which little Charlie is given a job, home and nagging wife were only moderateley successful; but with The Pilgrim his critical reputation soared again. This story of an escaped convict , who steals the clothes of a bathing priest and is mistaken for the new pastor of a little Midwest township, provided opportunities for the irony at the expense of bigotry, hypocrisy and small town manners.
Only when the First National contract was worked out was Chaplin free to make his first feature film for release by United Artists, the distribution organization he had formed in company with Douglas Fairbanks,Mary Pickford and D.W Griffith four years before. Women Of Paris (1923) was his first , long contemplated attempt at serious drama. It was intended to launch the loyal Edna Purviance as a dramatic actress, and her elegant, restrained performance merited the chance, though her subsequent career was to be shortlived. Adolphe Menjou subtly partnered her and became a star. Chaplin himself appeared only in a walk-on part.
The film took the stuff of the Victorian melodrama - the tragedy of a village girl turned courtesan and torn between an artist and a playboy - but applied to it an extremely sophisticated visual style, which was to influence the subsequent course of film comedy. To Chaplin's enduring chagrin, however,A Women Of Paris, despite its enthusiastic press, proved a commercial failure, but he was to recover his losses and his confidence with two of his best comedy features, The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928).
From the thirties onwards, Chaplin greatly slowed his output, taking not less than five years on each film. By the time he had embarked on City Lights , sound pictures had arrived, and Chaplin had witnessed the downfall of other great silent comedians. He decided not to risk the voiceless character he had created or his vast international market by trying dialogue. City Lights is a silent movie with musical accompaniment. It is based on a series of comic variatons built around an ironic melodrama about a blind girl and the sad little tramp whose efforts give back the sight which enables her to see his pathetic reality. In Modern Times, which marked the last appearance of the tramp, he risked a few moments of comic gibberish, though elsewhere retained his old mimetic comic style. With this film Chaplin first attracted the hostile and persistent line of criticism that charged the comedian with exceeding his 'proper' brief and setting himself up as a philosopher. It was a criticism that inevitably attached no less to The Great Dictator (1940) a comic satire on totalitarianism. For all the anger underlying the laughter, Chaplin later said that had he known the truth about Hitler's concentration camps he would not have had the temerity to make the film.
A feeling for the dark and macabre had never been far absent in Chaplin's films, and it surfaced most strongly in Monsieur Verdoux (1947), the story of a French Bluebeard wife-killer between the wars. The philosophic contrast that Verdoux draws between his own kind of murder and the kind that is licensed by war was not popular in the Cold War years, and the character was made a weapon of that persecution that led to Chaplin's permanent exile from America in 1953.
Chaplin's last American film was a nostalgic tribute to his youth in the backstreets and variety theatres of London. Full of autobiographical references, Limelight (1952) tells of the friendship and mutual support of an old, failed, alcoholic comedian and a dancer struck with psychosomatic paralysis. Reversing the process, in Britain he made a film about America: A King in New York (1957) is a bitter and ferocious comedy about the paranoia and persecution of the McCarthy era. It is at its best where Chaplin relies upon pathos, casting his own son Michael as a Fifties parallel to The Kid, the child's mind and conscience brutalized by society as the Jackie Coogan character suffered in his body.
At 77 Chaplin made one last film. A pleasant romantic comedy, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) might have been more successful and more kindly received if he had not made the mistake of using international stars - Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren - unsuited to his style of working. He never wholly retired, however. Almost until the end of his life he continued to work on the preparations of a film called The Freak. Having composed the music for his sound films, he continued to create new scores for reissues of his silent pictures. Barely a year before his death in 1977, Chaplin steeled himself to add music to A Woman of Paris for reissue, despite its painful memories. He had worked for more than eighty years; the 62 of those that he chose to spend in pictures established a record not likely to be beaten for a long time.
He was named Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1975. At 86 years of age it was rather belated.
Chaplin died in his sleep of old age on 25 December 1977, in Switzerland. He was 88 years old.
in death Chaplin had little peace. Such was the price of his celebrity that his remains were dug up and ransomed back to the family.
On 2 March 1978, his coffin (with him in it) was dug up and spirited away. His remains were recovered by Swiss police on 17 May 1978. Two Eastern European political refugees confessed to the crime. They described how they took Chaplin's oak coffin from the village cemetery at Corsier-sur-Vevey and buried it in a shallow hole in the cornfield near Villeneive, about 10 miles away at the eastern tip of Lake Geneva.
The Chaplin family began receiving ransom demands by phone several weeks after the coffin was taken. The caller had a Slavic accent.
Although the family had received many false calls asking for exorbitant sums, this time the demand was backed up with a photograph, sent by the alleged coffin just before its reburial in the cornpatch.
Chaplin's widow, Oona, refused to consider ransom. But in order to cooperate with police, the family, through its lawyer, Jean-Felix Paschoud, bargained with the alleged grave robbers over a tapped telephone. By the time the demand had dropped from $600,000 to $250,000, the police had figured out that the ransom calls were coming from a public pay telephone.
Two earlier traps set for the alleged grave robbers did not succeed but a dragnet of 100 policemen keeping an eye on all of Lausanne's more than 200 pay public telephones proved too difficult to elude for a 24-year-old Polish auto mechanic.
Chaplin was re-buried in a vault surrounded by cement.
His widow, Oona daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, died on 27 September 1991 at
Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, of pancreatic cancer.
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