CHAPLIN: His Life and Art by David Robinson
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CHAPLIN: His Life and Art

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A strong Chaplin biography, chockablock with the nuts and bolts of filmmaking as derived from Chaplin's own working papers and studio re. ports, by a noted British film critic-historian (Chaplin--The Mirror of Opinion and Buster Keaton). Robinson was also granted access by Lady Oona to her husband's closely guarded private papers, records and letters. Robinson is consistently reserved about his responses to finished works, especially those of Chaplin's later life (Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, A King in New York and A Countess from Hong Kong), which have their moments but surely show the master's hand wavering with diminished energies. In fact, after the half-success of The Great Dictator it cannot be said that Chaplin survived the talkies (his are too talky by half). His talkies are dealt with at fair depth, but it is the earlier silents about Charlie (and Chaplin's superb non-Tramp, full-length A Woman of Paris) that percolate most on the page. Robinson is bettered as a silent film-comedy esthete by Walter Kerr's richly mulled The Silent Clowns (1975), still the most stimulating criticism in Chaplin literature. For that matter, the first 11 chapters of Chaplin's My Autobiography (published when he was 75) covering his Dickensian childhood, early years in the British music halls and first years in films, are more absorbing than Robinson's dense but secondhand pages about the same period. Where Robinson is stronger than Chaplin is in bringing together the contributions of Chaplin's closest collaborators, several of whom are dropped into darkness in Chaplin's own account. Robinson also makes some curious omissions, especially the old man's response to his eldest daughter Geraldine's brilliantly inventive film acting; and no mention is made of Eugene O'Neill disowning his daughter Oona when at 18 she married 54-year-old Chaplin--as it turned out, a marriage blessed by the gods. Chaplin's life moves from Victorian and Edwardian London through the Keystone days with Mack Sennett, his branching out on his own into Essanday and Mutual films, which produced the glories of The Pawnshop, The Rink and Easy Street, his union with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith to create United Artists, and then his masterpieces, The Kid, The Idle Class, The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times. Along the way are legal problems, paternity suits and scandals with nymphets (he seems to have fixed on 15-year-olds), battles with McCarthyism, exile, happy days in his Swiss mansion, final years of acclaim back in Hollywood, and knighthood. Throughout he remains the shy, gentle, benign but temperamental dictator who could not personally fire a single subordinate. A winner, memorable for the full-dress portrait of the man, but even more for the inside look at silent picture-making by a genius.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1985
Publisher: McGraw-Hill