Movie Review – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Written by Carl Mayer & Hans Janowitz
Directed by Robert Wiene

One hundred years ago, during the Weimar Republic period in Germany, this silent horror film was released. This was a time of fertile artists in all media forms, especially the still-developing medium of cinema. Simultaneously, philosophy and psychology were carving out new avenues of thought and mental health, developing a more comprehensive understanding of consciousness and the inner world. The brutality of the war government and its aftermath fueled this exploration, an entire culture trying to make sense of itself, unaware of the dark journey they were taking and it’s horrific ends.

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Charlie Chaplin Month – The Other Films

While I am giving in-depth reviews to the Chaplin films I haven’t seen, I would be wrong in leaving out films of his I have seen previously, especially because they are some of his best work.



The Gold Rush (1925)
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Mack Swain, Georgia Hale

Made after the box office failure that was A Woman of Paris, Rush has Chaplin conjuring up some of his most iconic comedy moments. The dancing rolls bit, which has been referenced continuously in pop culture since. At one point starving miner imagines Chaplin transforming into a human sized turkey. We also have Chaplin boiling and eating a shoe. Chaplin originally intended to shoot the film on location in Alaska but nature had other plans. There is one on location shot in the film and its a gorgeous one. The rest was filmed on Chaplin’s United Artists sound stages. If you are looking to make a list of must see films for historical significance, this is a must for that list.



City Lights (1931)
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Meyers

This is my personal favorite Chaplin picture and I think its one of the best romantic comedies ever made. The Little Tramp befriends a blind flower girl whom mistakes him for a millionaire. The Tramp promises he will raise enough money for the young woman to have a costly procedure. To do so he signs up for a boxing tournament and the crux of the comedic action revolves around that. The film features one of the best scenes in cinema at its climax when the young woman, now sighted, learns the truth about the Little Tramp. I actually brought a girl to tears in college simply by describing in detail this scene. A beautiful film with a big heart.



Modern Times (1936)
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

This is the last major American film to make uses of silent movie title cards (ignoring silent film parodies that would come after). Chaplin billed this as his first “talkie” but plays with audience expectations while making a point. The only voices heard come from the abstract machinery of the factory the Little Tramp works in. It was all part of Chaplin’s ideas about how technology was being used improperly and, instead of empowering mankind, it was being used to take their humanity away. Chaplin also wrote the film’s ending song “Smile”, which has become a standard since (“Smile though your heart is aching Smile even though its breaking”).



Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Mady Correll

This was a drastic departure for Chaplin. There was no Little Tramp present here. Instead, he plays recently fired banker Henri Verdoux. Struggling to support his family, he decided to begin marrying rich women, murdering them, and absconding with their money. Chaplin plays the picture as a pitch black comedy and had a lot of difficulty with the Production Code on this one. The point behind the picture came from the idea that if a man murders a few people for money he is a criminal, however if he mass murders as in a war he is a hero. The film proved that Chaplin had little concern for box office returns, and really want to make films that were of interest to him.

Charlie Chaplin Month – The Circus



The Circus (1928, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Merna Kennedy, Al Ernest Garcia, Harry Crocker

This was to be the last true silent film made by Chaplin. The era of the Talkie had begun and audiences were no longer content to have their actors speechless. Chaplin’s following films would have elements of silent pictures in them and could easily be categorized that way, but make use of sound. Chaplin leaves the silent era with a bang, though. He pulls out all the stops, referencing the theater acts of his youth and adding the trademark Chaplin twist to them.

The Little Tramp happens upon a circus and become charmed with the ringmaster’s horse-riding daughter. The ringmaster sees potential in the Tramp as a clown in his show so he hires him one. The Tramp observed the ringmaster cruelly beating his daughter and sneaks her food when he can. Eventually, a handsome tightrope walker joins the circus and woos the daughter away. The Tramp begins to lose his edge as the hit of the circus and through a series of zany circumstances ends up having to step in for the tightrope walked in the film’s climactic sequence.

I laughed harder at this than I have most contemporary comedies. It’s not the slapstick, its the way Chaplin’s Tramp adds little flourishes of personality. The most symbolic sequence in the film is when the ringmaster has his troupe of clowns perform classic Vaudeville and dance hall comedic routines. The humor doesn’t come from the routines, but in how the Tramp bungles them up when it is his turn to perform. Chaplin understands that in the moments where another comedian would ham it up the Tramp will get the bigger laugh by playing dumb. What is also wonderful about the film is the feisty personality of the Tramp. He can be very feminine in his behavior, particularly when he attempts to woo the ringmaster’s daughter. Its very interesting that Chaplin takes the traditionally female role when courting, coyly casting his gaze downward, batting his eye lashes, and literally prancing. Juxtapose this against moments when the Tramp has had enough of his poor treatment from the ringmaster and he delivers comical blows.

While The Circus is one of the purest Chaplin comedies I’ve ever seen, it is not without its moments of  typical Chaplin poignancy. The final scene of the film, as the Tramp sits alone in a field that the circus wagons once occupied, standing, then walking into the dusklight is very beautiful. The background of the film is marred with difficulty. Sets were rained out or burnt down. Footage was scratched beyond usage. And Chaplin was dealing with a messy public divorce and an IRS lawsuit. None of this is visible on the screen though, showing Chaplin was the consummate professional.

Charlie Chaplin Month – A Woman of Paris



A Woman of Paris (1923, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
Starring Edna Purviance, Carl Miller, Adolphe Menju, Lydia Knott

This is not the sort of film you expect to see in a series on Charlie Chaplin. The main reason being Chaplin only makes an uncredited cameo, face away from the camera as a bellhop. The second reason being this is a very straight drama, with a few moments of humor woven into it. A Woman of Paris was Chaplin’s first production with United Artists, an independent film production company founded by he, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith. Because there was no studio pressuring Chaplin to make a slapstick comedy, he decided to write, direct and produce a film for his longtime romantic interest, Edna Purviance.

The film follows Marie St. Clair, a young French girl living in a rural village, about to leave with Jean, her fiancee and move to Paris. Both youths’ parents disapprove, and Jean’s father drops dead the night he planned to leave with Marie. Marie is left at the train station by herself, believing Jean has become scared, so she leaves on her own. Cut to a couple years later, and Marie is the mistress of Parisian businessman Pierre Revel. Marie is invited to a party in an unfamiliar quarter of the city and ends up knocking on the wrong door. It ends up being Jean’s apartment with his mother. Jean is now a painter and Marie, hoping to rekindle something they once had before commissions him to paint her portrait. Marie becomes caught up in the comfort provided by Pierre and her lost love for Jean.

The interesting part for me was how the two rivals for Marie are meant to be portrayed one way, but come across the exact opposite. Jean is supposed to be the passionate, compelling artist and Pierre the philanderous cad. However, Pierre is always much more fun to see on screen, even though he treats Marie as a passing fancy. Jean is just too brow beaten by his mother to be sympathetic or likable at all.

The film was a commercial disaster for Chaplin and Purviance both. The public had so solidified Chaplin in their mind as the Little Tramp, so when a film advertising it as his next venture was seen, the audience expected a comedy. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but it is a unique piece of cinema in his filmography. Chaplin has anticipated the public reaction and on the night of the premiere, and even in the opening credits, there are notices that he does not appear in the picture.

What A Woman in Paris represents in a larger context is Chaplin’s personal declaration of independence. He has fought against the constraints of studios since he took the screen, and now with his own company and crew he could make any film he wanted. The failure of this picture would cause him to return to more familiar territory for his next few ventures, but he would experiment again with the audience’s expectations.

Charlie Chaplin Month – The Kid

The Kid (1921, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Cooper

The experience of being taken from his mother and placed in a home for destitute children had a profound effect on Charlie Chaplin, and its apparent that those traumatizing childhood experiences had a strong influence on The Kid. Chaplin also seemed to always identify more with the people living at the bottom rung of society’s ladder and that can be seen here as well. At time maudlin and over sentimental, The Kid withstands being simply a mushy film by delivering strong laughs and telling an honest story.

The film opens with a woman newly released from the hospital, having been abandoned by the father. She abandons the child in a parked car and through a series of slapstick circumstances the child ends up in the care of the Little Tramp (Chaplin). The Kid grows up, he and the Tramp embark on a series of neighborhood scams to make ends meet. Eventually, the Kid gets sick and the Tramp must fight to keep his child from being taken from him.

What’s most startling about the film is the abject poverty and dirtiness of the film. These characters truly live in the dankest slums, where violence is a daily and commonplace occurrence. Despite this coldness of the world around them, Chaplin does a wonderful job of conveying the loving nature of the Tramp and the Kid’s household. They are both shown taking care of each other and that’s what makes the scene where the Kid is being taken from the house even more heartbreaking. Some of the plot twists the film takes are ludicrous but they fit with the more earnest tone of that time period.

It’s worth noting that Chaplin had lost a child, who had lived only three days, right before he met little Jackie Cooper and began developing the concept of this film around the young star. It can been seen that Chaplin was working through the issues of his own childhood and his emotions after losing a child of his own. The Kid is not a perfect film, Chaplin made far better, but it does highlight his ability to take short film material and begin to stretch it into longer narratives.