best film:   City Lights wins but Modern Times with the stroll off into the sunset ending is runner-up. Chaplin was no visual master behind the camera, but there are few, if any, more poignant moments in cinema than Virginia Cherrill’s character (simply listed as “a blind girl”) realizing it is Chaplin who has been her rich (supposedly) benefactor at the climax of City Lights. It is extremely affecting and well-earned drama. The glorious ending of Modern Times and the supreme brilliance of Chaplin’s roll dance in The Gold Rush could really come in any of his films – but the moment of emotional payoff in City Lights is unsurpassed because of what Chaplin built up the rest of the film leading up to that moment.


Chaplin evoking a devastating amount of sorrow in City Lights (1931)


best performance:   The Gold Rush, City Lights and Modern Times all warrant consideration. Chaplin was a magnificent performer  – not a great director overall (especially considering the high quality of the movies he made) – but he got better as a director as he went along (at least within his peak stretch run – for example, he is much stronger in Modern Times in 1936 in comparison with Gold Rush in 1925). The Gold Rush succeeds almost entirely because of Chaplin the actor.


“the roll dance” sequence from The Gold Rush


stylistic innovations/traits:   Charlie Chaplin made many silent short films before his feature debut (and it is a stretch calling that a feature at 68 minutes) with The Kid in 1921. Including The Kid and from that point on, Chaplin appears in only ten (10) films total where he it is not a cameo or uncredited extra type role. He was a perfectionist. This challenges Daniel Day-Lewis on a per-film average quality. Chaplin also challenges Marlon Brando in terms of just being a pure artist as an actor – even Chaplin’s detractors, would have to acknowledge his aptitude and gifts. The 5’5 Chaplin was not the director Buster Keaton was – no doubt on that – but Chaplin is the stronger actor. Keaton had his trademark deadpan – Chaplin’s style was much more highly expressionistic with his facial features. He was also basically a ballerina physically (the genius beach ball globe sequence in The Great Dictator). Chaplin has this huge head/face and was short – so it was almost like he physically constructed in a lab to provide the expressions of an actor (a silent actor of course) while being so nimble and elegant in his physical comedy. He created his main persona – “The Tramp” of course which is essentially the character he plays in each of his best five (5) performances so from the very beginning in film history there is a proud lineage for the actors who effectively play versions of themselves or variations on the same character (from John Wayne to Tom Cruise) from film to film. Chaplin is by far the main reason, as an actor, that his films were as good as they were (again he never worked with a director artist on the level of D.W. Griffith, Sergei Eisenstein, Buster Keaton, or F.W. Murnau). That is such a compliment to Chaplin the actor.


Chaplin’s run from 1925 to 1936 rivals Daniel Day-Lewis’ stretch from 2002 to 2017 where every film he acts in is an event.


directors worked with: Charlie Chaplin (10) – just a cameo in his own A Woman of Paris but he is technically in it. It is hard to overstate how heavily Chaplin the director is dependent on Chaplin the actor.


Chaplin – the master of pathos – opposite young Jackie Coogan in 1921’s The Kid.


top ten performances:

  1. The Gold Rush
  2. City Lights
  3. Modern Times
  4. The Kid
  5. The Circus
  6. The Great Dictator
  7. Monsieur Verdoux
  8. Limelight
  9. A King in New York
  10. Show People/A Woman of Paris– uncredited/cameo


Chaplin’s “globe dance” sequence from The Great Dictator (1940).



archiveable films

1921- The Kid
1923- A Woman of Paris
1925- The Gold Rush
1928- Show People
1928- The Circus
1931- City Lights
1936- Modern Times
1940- The Great Dictator
1947- Monsieur Verdoux
1952- Limelight
1957- A King in New York