Charlie v. Charles
Can I get much further from true Third Banana comedians than Chaplin? Geoff argues that Charlie certainly qualifies for Third Banana status here in the States as we, well, booted him out (or, rather, cowardly locked him out) in 1952. Perhaps, but like so many other colossal flubs on the part of America's Powers That Be, Chaplin's shameful expulsion has largely gone down the memory hole, as have his leftist politics, and today his films tend to stand on their own. Nevertheless, Third Banana or Ultimate Top Banana, this Punch review of City Lights, arguably Chaplin's finest feature, deserves some attention for its keen insights and remarkable prescience. E. V. L., the Punch film critic who also disproved the theory that the world in 1930 was united in its love of Keaton's MGM talkies, here examines the pros and cons of City Lights, the nature of Charlie's fame, and, to top it off, charts the potential path of Chaplin's career in sound. Indeed, as it turned out, the Tramp and sound were mutually exclusive and while Chaplin, now Mr. Charles, didn't really turn into a dramatist, most of his talkies are pretty heartbreaking. There's an interesting dig at Harold Lloyd in there, too, whose comedy megastar status had yet to fade in 1931. If I disagree with E. V. L. about anything here, it's his assessment of City Lights' crushing final moments. There's nothing positive about that ending; it's a profoundly cruel scene with both the Tramp and the Flower-girl now permanently separated from one another by personal and social expectations, easily the darkest ending of any of Chaplin's films. As Walter Kerr writes in The Silent Clowns, "The end is isolation, face to face, smiling through ice."