Chaplin, Charles Spencer

Chaplin, Charles Spencer


Born Apr.16, 1889, in London; died Dec. 25, 1977, in Vevey, Switzerland. American film director, actor, and screenwriter.

A British national by birth, Chaplin was the son of music-hall entertainers. He made his stage debut at the age of eight, and from 1907 to 1912 he worked his way up as a gifted comic actor in the English pantomime troupe of F. Karno. His American film career began in 1914, when he appeared in the comic film short Making a Living and in the full-length film Tillie’s Punctured Romance (Russian title, A Young Miss). Chaplin perfected his skills as a comic screen actor by performing in M. Sennett’s comedy shorts, and in 1914 he also began working as a director. Thereafter he acted almost exclusively in his own films, of which he was also the director and screenwriter and for which he frequently composed the music.

Chaplin’s devices were parody and the grotesque, and he made use of such means of expression as pantomime and the devices of the folk theater, music hall, and circus. He worked at creating the distinctive traits of the character he portrayed—Charlie the tramp, a figure that subsequently gained world fame; gradually the tragicomic aspect of the character became more pronounced.

As a master of comedy, Chaplin reached the highest level of his craft in the films The Tramp, His New Job, A Night in the Show, The Adventurer, The Pawnshop, Easy Street, The Immigrant, A Dog’s Life, and Shoulder Arms (made between 1915 and 1918) and in The Kid (1920). In Chaplin’s films, the interweaving of the comic and the tragic perception of life grew increasingly evident, and the tendency toward social satire was clearly distinguishable. Chaplin’s hero—Charlie the tramp—was an embodiment of the world’s poor, the rejects of capitalist society.

Beginning in 1923, Chaplin produced the full-length films A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925); and The Circus (1928), which are world masterpieces of screen comedy; their criticism of bourgeois society is combined with a profoundly humanist depiction of simple and unfortunate people. Other motifs, explored in greater depth in City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1935), are the illusory nature of hope and the tragic fruit-lessness of the struggle against social injustice on the part of the “little fellow.” The realistic quality of these films is combined with the vividness of comic situations, the hero’s touching steadfastness, and the humanistic treatment of the theme of love and the search for happiness.

Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1941) was a pointed satire on fascism, and his political activity during World War II, together with his calls for support of the Soviet people in the war against fascism, placed Chaplin in the ranks of the progressive figures of world culture. His postwar film Monsieur Verdoux (1947), which exposed the hypocrisy of capitalist society, evoked a vicious campaign against him as the film’s director by reactionary circles in the USA. Limelight, made in 1952, expressed Chaplin’s thoughts on art, talent, and old age.

Because of the persecutions he was subjected to, Chaplin was forced to leave Hollywood, and 1952 he settled in Switzerland. A King in New York, a film tha Chaplin produced in Great Britain in 1957, was a satire on the American way of life; A Countess from Hong Kong, made in 1967, was a traditional comedy.

As one of the greatest actors and directors, Chaplin exercised a profound influence on world cinema. In 1954 he was awarded the International Peace Prize for his outstanding contribution to the cause of peace and friendship among nations.


In Russian translation:
Mota biografiia. Moscow, 1966.


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Sadoul, G. Zhizri Charli, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from French.)
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