Chaplin: 15th Anniversary Edition

Chaplin: 15th Anniversary Edition (1992)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Kevin Kline, Marisa Tomei, James Woods, Moira Kelly
Extras: Chaplin Home Movie, Featurettes, Trailer

Over ninety 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 – which I recommend for anyone enjoying Chaplin's work – into a memorable, touching, and atmospheric movie that is every bit as eloquent as the book. It tells the story of Chaplin's (Robert Downey Jr.) life as a recollection of his own memories, prepared for release in 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 good fortune.

Despite the stellar success of Charlie Chaplin, and his complete dedication to this work, 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. Once again I want to point out that Chaplin's autobiography, on which this film is based, is an incredible read and a real page-turner, so grab a copy of you ever have the chance.

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 relentless 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 that 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 real-life 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.

Lionsgate is re-releasing "Chaplin" on this DVD, upgrading the long-outdated Live/Artisan release. The transfer is not bad but I have to admit I was slightly underwhelmed – maybe I've simply been watching too many high definition releases lately. While not bad, the transfer appears unnecessarily noisy and lacks detail in a number of shots with somewhat murky contrast in darker scenes. Especially the shots of Chaplin walking through the nighttime streets of London are noticeably flat and lack proper definition. Nonetheless, this is a good-looking review as Attenborough uses strong colors for much of the film. These colors draw attention and give the presentation a rich look and feel. One of the film's best features, its wonderful cinematography, is making sure you will forget about any shortcomings this transfer may have with its artfully picked motives, imaginative angles, and interesting perspectives combined with superb set decorations and a lush, colorful production design.

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 Dolby Digital transfer for this DVD. Note, please, that no 5.1 surround track is available for this release.

The release contains a couple of new bonus materials, such as Chaplin's Home Movie "All At Sea." Also inlcuded are the featurettes "Strolling Into The Sunset," "Chaplin The Hero" and "The Most Famous Man In The World," all of which shed some more light on Chaplin as a human being and important social commentator of his time. Also included is the movie's trailer.

To me, "Chaplin" is a masterpiece and a well deserved ode to the master of comedy. Chaplin was a genius and it is hard to capture someone who is larger than life in a movie. Attenborough did a marvelous job giving viewers an intimate look at the man that was Chaplin. 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. And why is there no Blu-Ray version of this movie?