Chaplin (1992)
Live Entertainment
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys,
Extras: Documentary, Video Interviews, Biographies, Overview over Chaplin’s work

Over eighty years after his first appearance on film, the Tramp is still one of the best known characters of movie history, making Charlie Chaplin one of the best known men on earth. But who was he really? Who was the man behind the timeless success of those silent movies, who made us laugh times and times again? So much is known about his films, and so little about the man who was Charles Chaplin.

In the movie "Chaplin", Sir Richard Attenborough takes a look behind the mask and turns Chaplin’s autobiography into a memorable, touching, and atmospheric movie. It tells the story of Chaplin’s (Robert Downey Jr.) life as a recollection of his own memories, prepared for release as his autobiography, interwoven with small interjections by the book’s publisher (Anthony Hopkins). The small pieces of conversation between the two reveal just as much about the true Charles Chaplin as do the recollected events themselves.

Charles grows up in a British working class suburb with his mother (Geraldine Chaplin) and his older brother Sidney (Paul Rhys). Hardly able to feed her two children, his mother watches as they are taken from her and put into the poorhouse. A few years later, she slowly starts to go insane with despair and the boys are forced to deliver her to a psychiatric clinic. Yet, despite his sad environment and his miserable history, Charles has always had a funny bone – and when his brother gets him a job in a local vaudeville show, he instantly becomes the show’s highlight and the audience’s favorite. The way he topples, stumbles, falls, jumps, and unnerves his co-stars endears him immediately.

During a small tour in the US, where, for the first time, he witnesses the wonders of movies, Chaplin receives an offer to appear in a movie. The instant he arrives in Hollywood, Chaplin knows he has found his destination. Awestruck, he watches people making movies and works hard to build his own skills and reputation. He invents the character of the Tramp along the way, and soon enough, Charles Chaplin is the most famous actor in the world, making fortunes writing, producing, directing, and starring in his own films. He decides to bring his brother to Hollywood, and makes him his manager and head of his newly founded studio. Later in his career, he also brings his mother from England to California to ensure that she too could benefit from his fortune. Despite the stellar success of Charlie Chaplin, his private life was in a constant turmoil. Openly criticizing the system and narrow-minded petty officials, he soon earns the immediate attention of J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI. Hoover eventually devotes his whole life to bringing Chaplin down, simply because Hoover was afraid of Chaplin’s supposedly subversive works, viewing the Tramp as a Communist. Nothing could have been further from the truth, however, as Chaplin was a humanist to the core, caring more for other people than for himself. Still, his inordinate liking for beautiful women caused more headlines than he liked. Going through multiple dysfunctional marriages, Chaplin was always on the lookout for the woman he truly loved, with only a few people, such as his brother and his long-time friend Douglas Fairbanks, giving him support in his private life.

There are, of course, many more details in Chaplin’s life and this movie, but I do not want to spoil your experience of watching this magnificent film. Although Chaplin’s life holds some very sad moments, the film never becomes melodramatic. It treats all aspects of his life with respect and class, making sure the viewer understands what drives the man behind the limelight. Sir Richard Attenborough, well known for his faithful, objective, and sensitive treatment of difficult themes, has once again created an insightful portrayal of a particularly important person of our time. "Chaplin" unveils the dramatic story of a legend who went from rags to riches, and his constant struggle against the political system and discrimination.

Attenborough sheds light on many of the highlights in Chaplin’s career, as well as the forgotten, humanitarian aspects of his long life. Unobtrusively, Attenborough makes sure that you will see Charles Chaplin with different eyes after watching this movie. You too will value the efforts of this hard-working man who, despite his wealth and success, never forgot his roots. With only one goal in life to make other people laugh Charles Chaplin was an irreplaceable personality of our world, one who truly deserved the attention and care of an exceptionally well done movie… a movie like this one.

Robert Downey Jr.’s marvelous portrayal of the immortal Charles Chaplin is a huge asset to this movie. In certain shots it is almost impossible to tell whether it is Downey or Chaplin himself you see, so close and striking is the visual resemblance between the two. Downey’s acting is in a league of its own, too, earning him a well-deserved Academy Award nomination. Within minutes into the movie, he will have you convinced he actually is Chaplin. This performance will take your breath away. The movie is rounded up by an all-star cast, including stars like Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Kevin Kline, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, James Woods, and Moira Kelly to name but a few. Geraldine Chaplin, Charles Chaplin’s daughter and a respected actress in her own right, plays the part of his mother, which adds a nice touch of credibility to the film.

"Chaplin" comes as a <$RSDL,RSDL> disc from Live Entertainment with lots of extras. The disc’s transfer is excellent with good contrast and very lively colors. The transfer itself is a little soft but still contains lots of detail. No grain, noise, bleeding, or other artifacts are visible. Color fidelity is very good, with rich hues and naturally rendered fleshtones. The movie is presented in its original theatrical 1.85:1 <$PS,letterboxed> format, preserving and bringing out the best of the movie’s great cinematography, that is dominated by artfully picked motives, imaginative angles, and interesting perspectives combined with superb set decorations and a lush, colorful production design. The disc contains many extras, like a documentary, video interviews, extensive cast biographies and an overview over Chaplin’s work.

The movie features a very good contemporary soundtrack, capturing the flair of the time of Chaplin’s works. It also reinvents several original themes from Chaplin’s films and never fails to revive the atmosphere of the time. The score is an essential part of this sensitive movie and it has received a good stereo <$DD,Dolby Digital> transfer for this DVD. The movie comes in English only without captions and offers selectable Spanish subtitles.

To me, "Chaplin" is a masterpiece and a well deserved ode to the master of comedy. The movie is funny, visually appealing, and insightful. If you have ever watched a Charlie Chaplin film and enjoyed his immense talent, there is no way you should miss seeing this movie. It is a memorable and touching document about the Tramp and the man who created him, about the magic that still makes us laugh and captures us today, and that surely will do the same for generations to come.