At some point in the “film school” era, Charlie Chaplin became a dirty word. The characteristics that made “The Little Tramp” phenomenally popular to audiences in the early 1900s—particularly his sentimental streak—made him less appealing to later generations than Chaplin’s contemporaries like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
Bashing Chaplin became as hipster fashionable as preferring Fitzgerald to Hemingway.
But there’s a reason George Bernard Shaw referred to Chaplin as “the only genius to come out of the movie industry,” and the films that formed the basis of his legend were the Mutual Films two-reel shorts he made from 1916-1918. Taking complete creative control—as director, producer, writer, star and occasionally even composer—Chaplin took the slapstick style pioneered at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios and became one of the most masterful comic choreographers in film history.
A portion of the New Year’s Eve three-day program is scheduled to feature One A.M., The Count and The Pawn Shop, all of them classics of the Chaplin canon. But One A.M. (pictured), in particular, might be the perfect distillation of Chaplin’s genius, as he plays a man returning home drunk and finding every inanimate object conspiring against him. Working almost entirely solo, Chaplin turns physical comedy into a ballet in gags that are as hilarious now as they were a century ago. Watch a staggering Chaplin struggle with a slippery throw rug, taxidermied animals, his clock’s massive pendulum and his pull-out Murphy bed, and try worrying about how “sentimental” it is between gasps of laughter.