Rated: PG-13 For nudity. Reviewed by: Frank Release date: December 25, 1992 Released by: Columbia TriStar
The work of Charles Chaplin remains viable today due to his genius. The great body of his film success was completed before he was 30 years old. That portion of Director Richard Attenborough's Chaplin presentation of Chaplin's life is the best part of the film. The political story, on which Attenborough spends too much time, flattens the joy of the delightful comic's film life, which is the one the public remembers and cares about.
Robert Downey, Jr. performs so well in the title role it is impossible to discern if the performance on the screen is an original Chaplin or a Downey recreation. Downey not only looks like Chaplin, he moves the same way and has the grace and fluid motion necessary to present the romance and beauty of Chaplin's work. Also joining an all-star cast is Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie's daughter, who plays her grandmother, Hanna Chaplin.
The film ends at the Academy awards Ceremony in 1972 when Chaplin was given a special award from the Academy. In 1952, during the right wing McCarthy era, he was deported through an action of J. Edgar Hoover who judged Chaplin to be soft on communism. I remember that evening. When the lights went up after clips from many Chaplin films, the audience stood and cheered and Chaplin's first words were "Your are wonderful people." Attenborough frames the triumphant return as vindication from the communist charges but the return was heralded because of the trailblazing lifetime achievement of a great movie star who will be funny and enjoyable to watch as long as film is shown.
It was a mistake to stress the political aspects of Chaplin's life. Hoover, communism and Hitler are dead. Their evil may be a valid subject for film but in Chaplin they detract from the main focus which is the work of a comic who made everyone laugh except Hoover and Hitler.
The film is not fatally flawed; it veers away from the film career and his personal life a bit too much, but the joy of his comedy and the journey of his life will make you laugh and think.