This is a very sad film from Charlie Chaplin.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Not tragi-comic. Just plain old sad.
Well-made, but full of pathos throughout.
And why is it such an oddity?
Because Chaplin himself is not in it. At all.
This was his first attempt at being a serious director.
It was almost his last such effort.
But, alas… (as they say)…Chaplin’s final film was also to not feature himself as an actor (but for a cameo). That film, A Countess from Hong Kong, bears a striking resemblance from the standpoint of title to the film under consideration.
The only difference is that the latter film (from 1966) was a comedy.
But back to the heart-wrenching [sic] film at hand.
It doesn’t tear the heart…doesn’t rend. No, rather, it indeed twists it (like a piece of laundry before being hung out to dry).
And so most of this film is overwrought. But an auteur like Chaplin is really incapable of making a bad film. And in the end we are glad we saw it. Me. The royal “we”.
Sure, this film is a massive downer, but there is a sweet message to it. In other words, it is worth seeing. It isn’t recommended as a pick-me-up after a long day at work, but under the right circumstances it might really speak to a viewer.
It did, indeed, speak to me.
Edna Purviance is a face worth crying for. We have cried for her. Yes. She ran off without any explanation. If she’d only stayed on the phone a moment longer…
And so Jean (Carl Miller) begins his sad story. It takes a long time to become this sad. It is like the impasto-knife mountains of van Gogh…those little timeless blobs of paint which he shaped into miniature Hokusai waves on the canvas. That kind of sadness… Layer upon layer.
And the real focal point is Jean’s mother (played by Lydia Knott). She is the mother who would understand. An elopement. The mother who would play diplomat. “Go say ‘goodbye’ to your father.”
But she is only human. Having lost everything, she only has her son left.
Our judgment as humans is clouded. We give bad advice. Not purposefully. There is just a limit to what we know. We have failed to understand certain things. These are our shortcomings.
And so Jean doesn’t see the pot of soup on the stove. Jean doesn’t appreciate his mother who does the grocery shopping. Jean is too young…and he’s lovesick.
We fixate in romance. We fall…so deep. In love. And it seems like a whirlpool pulling us under.
What a blessing to live! What a blessing to smile. Yes, I am sad. But I try to smile. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I won’t be tongue-tied and shy. Maybe tomorrow the molecules with bounce a different way. If I am a billiard ball, maybe tomorrow I will glance off the fray at a different angle. A glance. Maybe someone will notice me tomorrow. Not notice me as a freak, but notice me as a kind human being.
It’s all Charlie was trying to say. Serve others. Find happiness. It’s all I’m trying to say. And do. I hope the universe will find my efforts humbly acceptable. In the end.
It’s worth it. Stay till the end.