Remembering the world's most beloved rebel: Charlie Chaplin

Salma Senosi, Sunday 25 Dec 2011

Born on 16 April 1889, Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas Day in 1977. A life lived full of art, he left behind some of the greatest cinematic masterpieces of all time


Charlie Chaplin was a legend of comedy, but also a rebel. Chaplin criticised the aggression of his country Britain upon Egypt in 1956 and praised the struggle of the Egyptian people, saying that “the duty of all nobles is to write about the armed struggle of the Egyptian people ... ”

Chaplin not only put smiles on countless faces, but never shied from taking on the most pressing and profound socio-political issues. He opened the eyes of many to the injustices of the world we live in.

Chaplin was admired by the proletariat for his revolutionary stances; he was hated by the bourgeoisie for mocking them in his movies. Whether lauded or condemned, each of his movies carries a noble humanitarian message, still evident today, on the 34th anniversary of his death.

His movie The Immigrant (1917) was inspired by his first journey to America, onboard of a ship bearing poor immigrants looking for jobs. The film illustrates the suffering of economic migrants.

In The Kid (1921), considered one of his masterpieces, Chaplin shows his humanitarian face by highlighting the fate of a street child.

City Lights (1931) opens with a mayor`s speech underlining the golden era of a city. Its following images depict poverty, and sad reality totally unrelated to the speech about prosperity and happiness.  

The capitalist system and how it enslaves people is exposed in Modern Times (1936), a movie that was banned in Italy and Germany. The capitalist factory owner seeks to increase production for his own benefit, regardless of the inhuman conditions he imposes on poor laborers.

Chaplin did not spare or fear anyone. In The Great Dictator (1940), Chaplin performs a searing mockery of Adolf Hitler. “Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people,” Chaplin commented on the movie. “Let us fight for a new world, a decent world, because soldiers should not fight for slavery but for the liberty,” he said.  

Monsieur Verdoux (1947) saw reason for Chaplin to be pursued by the American authorites. He wrote the script, produced and directed the movie. Monsieur Verdoux presents a bank employee after the stock market collapse in 1929. Trying desperately to gain money, he marries and murders rich widows to inherit their wealth. By the end of the movie, in his trial, he declares that his crimes are less monstrous than those committed by Western civilisation and that he is an amateur killer compared to Western market principles.

Charlie Chaplin considered himself an international citizen and in this conviction he did not see it necessary to take American citizenship — yet another reason for critics to attack him. Chaplin faced many accusations and was not liked by American authorities for his stances. He was accused of being a communist, of criticising capitalism, and even of having a relation with a minor (which was proved later not to be true). In 1952, when on his way to Europe, he was informed that he was prohibited from returning to the US. Chaplin chose Switzerland to as his country of exile, where he died 25 December 1977.

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