ABSTRACT

To cut a long story short, we need to view Charlie Chaplin’s undeniably famous films as a component piece in a much more complex puzzle: Chaplin’s real-life politics and what others made of them. In essence, the following thereby invites the reader to take a cinematic comedian seriously almost the entire time – no small feat. Yet the politics-centred approach outlined in this book merely serves to restore the creator of the Little Tramp to the way that many saw him during his lifetime. Indeed, comments along these lines were frequent. For his dining companion and sometime host Winston Churchill, ‘the real Chaplin, as revealed to those who, like myself, have had the pleasure of meeting him in private life, is by no means funny. He is a man of character and culture.’ 1 For another confidant, the 1934 left-wing Democratic Candidate for Governor of California Upton Sinclair, Chaplin’s work – especially those films with ‘undercurrent[s] of tragedy’ – gave ‘tremendous meaning to everything we are witnessing’ and ‘will earn you the gratitude of millions of people whom you have never seen’. 2 Fundamentally, therefore, Chaplin was never viewed as just a clown, but as a social commentator whose views could be dangerous or inspirational depending on one’s own political leaning. He was, as his great biographer David Robinson describes, The Mirror of Opinion. 3