A sweetheart, surely the most intimate and moving picture of Chaplin's last three decades that we will ever have. Epstein, a Brooklyn boy in love with theater, moved to L.A. after WW II and opened the extremely modest Circle Theatre, which mounted fine, offbeat shows in the space of a living room, became the focus of the freshest theater in town, and inspired the birth of the best off-off-Broadway troupes in Manhattan. When Chaplin's sons Sydney and Charlie, Jr., began appearing in Epstein's postage-stamp cyclone of invention, Charlie and Oona became regulars, and Charlie himself began directing productions. Thus began a friendship that eventually found Epstein working as Chaplin's closest associate, fellow editor, perennial houseguest, and right-hand man on Limelight, A King in New York, A Countess from Hong Kong, and the unfilmed The Freak. Throughout the making of these pictures, you are there like a fly on the wall, taking in every "Gee whiz, Charlie" from Brando and every scream about the billing or close-ups from Sophia Loren. Enormously benefiting the superb text are many dozens of photographs that make movie-making into something out of a family album. Some moments are unforgettable, especially when Chaplin and Epstein go for the first performance of Countess for the London critics and the projector is equipped with a wide-angle lens for the big theater's regular film, Dr. Zhivago, which the projectionist does not know how to remove. The color is ruined, the film jumps and blurs, and the result is a critical disaster the picture could not later overcome, although Chaplin was much heartened by its responsive audiences. All of Chaplin's classic full-length films were panned as inferior to his earlier work; today Countess has ripened into a wonderful (but still unappreciated) entertainment. Makes you part of the family—and what a family! Epstein (along with Oona) deserves much credit for re-creating that warmth and for reexperiencing as well his hard times and fallings-out with Chaplin. Not a coffeetable book, but a memoir of genuine and lasting merit.
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