Charlie Chaplin

  1. Charlie Chaplin

From May 15 through June 30, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents Charlie Chaplin, a series of twelve programs of feature films, featurettes, and shorts covering the prime period of the legendary comedian's career from 1918 to 1958. All films are being shown in recently struck 35mm prints authorized by the Chaplin estate and released by Janus Films.

Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889-1977) was born in the East End of London. The stage offered an escape from the extreme poverty of his childhood. While touring America with a British comedy troupe in 1913, he was hired by the pioneer Hollywood comedy producer Mack Sennett. In early 1914, while rummaging through the studio's wardrobe department, Chaplin concocted the costume of the Little Tramp--baggy pants, big shoes, cane, derby hat, and toothbrush mustache. The Little Tramp became one of the iconic figures of twentieth-century culture, achieving a worldwide popularity (thanks to the universality of silent cinema) that has possibly never been equaled.

It soon became apparent that Chaplin was not only a popular entertainer but also an extraordinarily ambitious and personal artist. The compleat auteur, Chaplin co-founded his own movie company (United Artists), wrote, directed, and starred in (with the exception of A WOMAN OF PARIS) all his films, composed the music for them (winning a belated Oscar for the score of LIMELIGHT in 1973), and retained control of the negatives, sometimes tinkering with them after their original release. His relentless perfectionism, encompassing countless retakes and hours in the editing room, became legendary. He was lauded by such high-culture luminaries as George Bernard Shaw, Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, and Sigmund Freud, while still retaining his enormous popularity with the public--at least, until the early 1940s.

Chaplin bade farewell to both the Little Tramp and the silent cinema after MODERN TIMES (1936). He began tackling more controversial subject matter--including two very different types of mass murderer in THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) and MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947). A series of personal scandals and political controversies culminated in his McCarthy-era expulsion from the U.S. in 1952. His final films failed to attract the public, although they continued to express his uniquely personal vision. As Andrew Sarris wrote, "Viewed as a whole, Chaplin's career is a cinematic biography on the highest level of artistic expression."

Trained in music hall (the British equivalent of vaudeville), Chaplin is often identified with a Victorian, even Dickensian sensibility. However, his ability to combine humor and pathos represented a giant step forward in the evolution of movie comedy, and his performing style--a mixture of dance-like grace, earthy body language, and exquisite pantomime--revolutionized screen acting. We encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to see this amazingly subtle and expressive actor-director on the big screen for which his art is tailored.

Special thanks to Sarah Finklea, Janus Films; Jake Perlin, The Film Desk.

—Martin Rubin
Sunday double-bill discount!
Buy a ticket at our regular prices for a Charlie Chaplin movie on any Sunday in May or June, and get a ticket for a second Chaplin movie that day at this discount rate (tickets must be purchased at the same time): General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second film only.)



Sun, May 15th at 3:00pm
Thu, May 19th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.8 (5 votes)
  1. THE KID
  1. 1921, Charles Chaplin, USA, 54 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Jackie Coogan

Chaplin's first feature-length film, THE KID also represents his first major attempt at blending comedy and pathos. Just as bold is its mixture of scrappy street life (BICYCLE THIEVES owes a lot to this film...) with dreamlike fantasy ( does MIRACLE IN MILAN). The Little Tramp raises an abandoned boy (Coogan in a legendary child performance), but orphanage officials want to pull them apart.

Preceded by:
1918, Charles Chaplin, USA, 33 min.
With Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance

One of Chaplin's greatest shorts--a light-hearted predecessor to THE KID, with Charlie taking in a mutt instead of a tyke. Silent films with synchronized music scores. 35mm. (MR)

Chaplin Shorts


Sun, May 15th at 5:00pm
Tue, May 17th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (4 votes)
  1. Chaplin Shorts
  1. 1919-22, Charles Chaplin, USA, 103 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance

Four classic comedies made for First National during Chaplin's transitional period from shorts to features: SUNNYSIDE (1919, 30 min.) casts Charlie as a farmhand whose sweetheart (Purviance) is wooed by a city slicker. In A DAY'S PLEASURE (1919, 19 min.), Charlie takes the family on a boat excursion marred by mal de mer. THE IDLE CLASS (1921, 32 min.) casts Charlie as both a tramp and a rich sot, with the latter's neglected wife (Purviance) caught between the two look-alikes. In PAY DAY (1922, 22 min.), construction-worker Charlie battles both his bullying foreman and his battle-axe wife. Silent films with synchronized music scores. 35mm. (MR)



Sun, May 22nd at 3:00pm
Tue, May 24th at 6:15pm
Average: 4 (5 votes)
  1. 1928, Charles Chaplin, USA, 72 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Merna Kennedy

"Delightful...One of his funniest films."
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Snappy, inventive, and ultimately poignant, THE CIRCUS is the most unjustly neglected of Chaplin's silent features. While fleeing from the cops, the Little Tramp accidentally becomes the top clown at a circus and falls in love with the brutish ringmaster's abused stepdaughter (Kennedy). Highlights include a hall-of-mirrors scene to rival the one in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, Charlie's teetering tightrope walk, and the haunting final payoff of the film's circles motif. Silent film with synchronized music score. 35mm. (MR)



Sun, May 22nd at 4:45pm
Thu, May 26th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.5 (6 votes)
  1. 1940, Charles Chaplin, USA, 124 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

"A truly superb accomplishment by a truly great artist...perhaps the most significant film ever produced."
—Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Chaplin's first all-talking picture was also the biggest hit of his career, although its defiance of the isolationist Production Code and its comic treatment of serious themes (including the persecution of the Jews) aroused much controversy. Chaplin plays two roles: a mild-mannered Jewish barber and the Hitleresque tyrant Adenoid Hynkel. The comic set-pieces include the sublime balloon-globe ballet, and Jack Oakie's strutting Mussolini parody is a riot. 35mm. (MR)



Fri, May 27th at 6:00pm
Sun, May 29th at 3:15pm
Average: 5 (9 votes)
  1. 1931, Charles Chaplin, USA, 86 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill

Widely considered the pinnacle of Chaplin's art, CITY LIGHTS plays sentiment and slapstick off each other to devastating effect. He plays a tramp whose outcast state is overlooked by two complementary characters: a blind flower girl who thinks he's a millionaire, and a real millionaire who's too drunk to care. Highlights include the street-cleaning scene, the boxing match, and the unforgettable final close-up. Silent film with synchronized music score. 35mm. (MR)



Sun, May 29th at 5:00pm
Wed, Jun 1st at 6:00pm
Average: 4.8 (8 votes)
  1. 1936, Charles Chaplin, USA, 89 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

Although an implicit social consciousness informs much of Chaplin's work, MODERN TIMES marked his explicit response to the political and economic unrest of the 1930s. In his last silent film (with music score and sound effects) and his last appearance as the Little Tramp, Charlie is an assembly-line worker who loses his job, goes to jail, befriends a waif (Goddard), and finds work as a singing waiter. The feeding-machine, cocaine-in-the-salt-shaker, and roller-skate-ballet scenes rank among Chaplin’s funniest set pieces. Silent film with synchronized music score. 35mm. (MR)



Fri, Jun 10th at 6:00pm
Sun, Jun 12th at 4:45pm
Average: 5 (3 votes)
  1. 1947, Charles Chaplin, USA, 124 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Martha Raye

“Charlie Chaplin’s darkest, loneliest and possibly funniest part slapstick, one part steely wit…an urgent work of necessary art.”
—Josh Vasquez, Slant Magazine

The great Chaplin gambled with this Bluebeard-inspired black comedy based on an idea by Orson Welles, abandoning his beloved Little Tramp screen persona for the edgy character of a serial killer. Posters trumpeted “Chaplin changes! Can you?” but the result was the first box office failure of his career. This new, darker Chaplin, playing a Parisian bank clerk who lures dowagers into fatal marriage, is both funny and disturbingly sympathetic. Some of his finest late-career comedy is represented by sequences in which Verdoux’s clueless prey Annabella (Raye) escapes her fate through repeated mishaps. 35mm. (BS)

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Sun, Jun 12th at 3:00pm
Tue, Jun 14th at 6:00pm
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)
  1. 1918, Charles Chaplin, USA, 37 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance

1922, Charles Chaplin, USA, 41 min.
With Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance

A double-bill of two of Chaplin's short features made for First National Pictures:

Much as with THE GREAT DICTATOR twenty years later, Chaplin's farcical treatment of trench warfare in SHOULDER ARMS vaulted over rumblings of controversy to become his biggest hit to date. Charlie evolves rapidly from bumbling recruit to Sergeant York-type hero, with a wry final twist.

In THE PILGRIM, escaped convict Charlie masquerades as a preacher in a Texas town. Highlights include his brilliantly pantomimed "David and Goliath" sermon and the resonant final image of him gingerly straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. Silent films with synchronized music score. 35mm. (MR)



Sun, Jun 19th at 3:15pm
Tue, Jun 21st at 6:15pm
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)
  1. 1925/42, Charles Chaplin, USA, 69 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Georgia Hale

"Chaplin's best-loved film...The blend of slapstick and pathos is seamless."
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader

Chaplin called THE GOLD RUSH "the picture I want to be remembered by,” and it's likely the best one for those who like their Chaplin straight, with a minimum of sentiment and social commentary. Lone prospector Charlie wends his way through the Klondike as the film serves up one classic set-piece after another: the boiled-shoe dinner, the dance of the rolls, the teetering cabin... Note: This is the 1942 re-edited version with Chaplin himself providing a narration in lieu of intertitles. The Chaplin estate authorizes screenings of the original 1925 version only with a full orchestra to simulate his original score. 35mm. (MR)

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Sun, Jun 19th at 4:45pm
Wed, Jun 22nd at 6:00pm
Average: 4.2 (5 votes)
  1. 1952, Charles Chaplin, USA, 137 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom

"A masterpiece. Few cinema artists have delved into their own lives and emotions with such ruthlessness and with such moving results."
—Time Out Film Guide

LIMELIGHT is the most richly personal of Chaplin's films, striking deep autobiographical chords in its poignant tale of an aging comedy star (Chaplin) who has lost touch with his audience and who is loved by a much younger woman (Bloom). As in THE GREAT DICTATOR and MONSIEUR VERDOUX, Chaplin audaciously injects comedy into unconventional contexts, but the touch is more mellow and melancholy here. Chaplin's marvelous recreations of vintage British music hall acts include a hilarious routine with Buster Keaton. Winner of a belated (1973) Oscar for Best Music. 35mm. (MR)

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Sun, Jun 26th at 3:00pm
Tue, Jun 28th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (3 votes)
  1. 1923, Charles Chaplin, USA, 84 min.
  2. With Edna Purviance, Adolphe Menjou

Chaplin doesn't appear (save for a brief cameo) in this daring, fascinating film, which he describes as "the first serious drama written and directed by myself." But it's more complicated and dazzling than that: a sophisticated Lubitschian (before Lubitsch himself was Lubitschian!) comedy of manners, book-ended by a deceptively melodramatic opening and a startling, morally complex ending. A village girl (Purviance) is driven by romantic disappointment to Paris, where she becomes the toast of the town, desired by a bon vivant (Menjou) and an earnest artist (Carl Miller). Michael Powell, one of the many filmmakers inspired by this film, said of it, "Suddenly the whole medium grew up." Silent film with synchronized music score. 35mm. (MR)



Sun, Jun 26th at 4:45pm
Thu, Jun 30th at 6:00pm
Average: 5 (2 votes)
  1. 1957, Charles Chaplin, UK, 110 min.
  2. With Charles Chaplin, Dawn Addams

"His social commentary is, if anything, more timely now...the last film he starred in was as gentle, optimistic and funny as the first."
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

In his last starring role, Chaplin plays a deposed European monarch who flees to New York, where his celebrity leads to a flood of commercial endorsements...and political controversy. A KING IN NEW YORK is no less personal than LIMELIGHT--its attitude toward America is heartbreakingly ambivalent--but the focus is more political and satiric, with Chaplin taking potshots at such pet peeves as CinemaScope, rock 'n' roll, advertising, progressive education, and, above all, anti-communist witch hunts. Jonathan Rosenbaum called it, along with WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER?, "the most devastating satire about 50s America to be found anywhere." 35mm. (MR)