"Charlie Chaplin - Comic Genius"
By David Robinson
A Book Review by Phil Posner
Don't expect any great insights from this pleasant little softcover
volume by David Robinson, author of the definitive "Chaplin -- His
Life And Art" (1985). Published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. as part of
their Discoveries series, it is bargain priced at $12.95.
Just 143 pages, many of which contain illustrations, it is slight in
text, giving a good overview of Chaplin's life and film career,
factually accurate but not extremely detailed. Consistent with the
form of other Abrams' publications, it is kind of a thumbnail life of
Chaplin. Despite the space constrictions that must have been placed on
Robinson, he succeeds overall.
One senses that someone who knows little about Chaplin, and doesn't
want to read a longer biography, could come away from this book with a
fair sense of Chaplin the man and actor, the facts of his life, not
ignoring such negative facets as the Barry affair, the FBI persecution
and his McCarthy era problems.
What is particularly notable is the amount and quality of photos in
the book, many from the closely guarded Chaplin archives, and not
There is an unusual shot of Chaplin applying his famous mustache.
There is a series of stills from Kid Auto Races, the first released
film which introduced the Tramp character, displayed in the same
scrapbook style as those of other Keystone films found in Chaplin's
own "My Life in Pictures." The stills include the original title card,
not included in current prints, "In picturing this event an odd
character discovered that motion pictures were being taken, and it
became impossible to keep him away from the camera." This seems
somehow prophetic, applying to not only the character but to the actor
For the first time in a Chaplin biography Robinson acknowledges that
Kid Auto Races was shot during the filming of Mabel's Strange
Predicament, which Chaplin remembered in his autobiography as the
first film for which he donned the Tramp costume. Thanks to the
research of the unacknowledged Bo Berglund (in CLASSIC IMAGES),
Chaplin's memory has been vindicated, and this niggling inconsistency
has now been put to rest.
Another rare shot is taken outside the Keystone Studios of Chaplin, in
street clothes, along with Mabel Normand and Charlie Murray.
Notable later shots show Chaplin editing his 1957 A King In New York,
conducting the orchestra and demonstrating a melody at the piano for
the same film. There are also some rarely seen color posters from
Also excellent is Robinson's Documents section which contains quotes
from Chaplin's autobiography, reprints of two early Chaplin articles,
"What People Laugh At" and "A Rejection of the Talkies," and a
collection of opinions of Chaplin's contemporaries and colleagues such
as Keaton, Max Linder, Jean Cocteau, Renoir, Goddard, in fact a
profusion of European filmmakers, who all sing the praises of Chaplin
and consider him their "teacher," just as Chaplin once credited D. W.
Griffith with the same deference.
David Robinson's delightful little volume will hopefully provoke some
"Discoveries" of Chaplin and his creation, the Little Fellow, by new