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 An accomplished and highly readable contribution to the recent wave of revisionist Chaplin biographies (such as Joyce Milton's Tramp, 1996). Reviled at the height of the Cold War as a moral bankrupt and a Communist sympathizer, then apologetically forgiven in the '70s as a persecuted genius, Chaplin is now under attack again. Perhaps time, which wounds all heels, has allowed a proper perspective, or perhaps Chaplin's victim persona is out of step with our ``pull yourself together'' culture, but either way, the Little Tramp's reputation is close to an all-time low. Lynn's (Hemingway, 1987, etc.) account is hardly the nastiest. In fact, he has a certain grudging respect for his subject. But he does make sure to highlight Chaplin's heedless politics (such as defending Stalin's show trials and pogroms), and no moral failing, from his stinginess and ingratitude to his fondness for young girls, is left unremarked. Lynn also continues the process of whittling away at Chaplin's movies. While acknowledging some, such as City Lights and The Gold Rush, as masterpieces, he dismisses most of the ``talkies'' (hardly a unique critical position). Most biographers have focused on Chaplin's traumatic childhood as the source of his creativity--and insufferability--but Lynn does an excellent job of teasing out innumerable autobiographical elements in Chaplin's work. He also offers some useful correctives. For example, through an ingenious use of maps and data, he is able to determine that the various lodgings the young Chaplin lived in weren't as Dickensian and bleak as Chaplin claimed. This leads Lynn to speculate that Chaplin's barely employed mother might have engaged in prostitution. Lynn also dabbles in Freudian interpretations of Chaplin's behavior and work that are compelling, if not always completely convincing. While this biography isn't as detailed or thorough as some (for example, Lynn slides over Chaplin's tax troubles in a few sentences), it has all the pacing, sense of character, and narrative verve of a good novel. (24 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-80851-X
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997