×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Charlie Chaplin — The Forgotten Years

Combination of class and kitsch, docu is a reverent, sometimes moving look at the last 25 years of film pioneer's life. Parade of talking heads complements vintage newsreel footage and uninspired narration. Charlie's children provide frank memories of their brilliant but mostly distant dad. TV production is wholesome tube fare.

With:
With: Geraldine Chaplin, Eugene Chaplin, Michael Chaplin, Peter Ustinov, Petula Clark, Arthur Cohn, Freddy Buache, Andre Favrz, Liselotte Pulver, Gabriele Di Rito. (English, French, German dialogue)

A strange combination of class and kitsch, “Charlie Chaplin — The Forgotten Years” is a reverent, sometimes moving, sometimes maudlin look at the last 25 years of the consummate film pioneer’s life which he spent in exile in a 15-room manse in the quaint Swiss town of Corsier-sur-Vevey. Parade of talking heads complements vintage newsreel footage and uninspired narration. Charlie’s children Geraldine, Eugene and Michael provide frank memories of their brilliant but mostly distant dad. TV production, made in observance of the 25th anniversary of Chaplin’s death on Christmas Day 1977, is wholesome tube fare with an undercurrent of melancholy.

Branded a Commie sympathizer during the Cold War, Chaplin left America for Switzerland and essentially never came back — except in 1972 to collect an honorary Oscar. Daughter Geraldine expresses her disgust that he was only given a visa for 10 days. The FBI had kept a file on Chaplin starting in 1922 which by the early 1950s ran to 1,900 pages.

As presented here, tantalizing hints of sinister Swiss surveillance of Chaplin from his arrival in 1952 amount to an underfed tease. Chaplin was made an honorary Italian citizen but was never granted Swiss citizenship despite several applications.

Interviewees range from Peter Ustinov — who is incapable of recounting a dull anecdote — to the less-than riveting gravediggers who shoveled the earth for Chaplin’s grave.

Docu recounts Chaplin’s outrage upon learning that rather than being a quiet refuge, the Manoir de Bain, which he’d bought in winter for wife Oona and their growing brood, was nearly next door to a rifle range that reverberated with constant gunshots come spring. Chaplin turned his annoyance into a gag in a subsequent film.

Doc pays special attention to Chaplin’s love of the circus and his friendship with pianist Clara Haskil, whom he described as one of three geniuses he’d known — along with Einstein and Churchill.

Geraldine elaborates on how her father desperately tried to learn French in his 60s but failed: “For the first time in his life he found something he could not do — and he could do everything.”

Doc emphasizes Chaplin’s self-taught composing skills — he couldn’t read or write music but played piano with a tape recorder running. He wrote some 500 melodies — more than 200 during his exile in Switzerland. Petula Clark, who had an international hit with “This Is My Song,” the theme song from “The Countess From Hong Kong,” says he showed her songs that were quite good and whose current whereabouts intrigue her.

Color home movies shot by Sydney Chaplin are a highlight — although not as striking as rediscovered footage in Kevin Brownlow’s “The Tramp and the Dictator.”

Documakers asked Chaplin’s grown children and select friends to speak personal messages to the deceased and the results, although sincere, are borderline cringe-making, until Geraldine advises her daddy to stay where he is since his optimism about the world has not been borne out. “Don’t come back,” she says, adding, “but leave the Little Tramp here.”

Popular on Variety

Charlie Chaplin -- The Forgotten Years

Switzerland

Production: A Mesch & Ugge AG presentation of a Mesch & Ugge, SRG, SSR, Idee Suisse production. Produced by Beat Hirt. Directed by Felice Zenoni. Written by Beat Hirt, Zenoni.

Crew: Camera, (color/B&W, DV, 16mm and 35 mm), Bjorn Lindroos, Frank Messmer; editor, Christian Muller; music, Charlie Chaplin, Ennio Morricone; sound, Hans-Peter Studer, Johannes Wulf. Reviewed at Chicago Film Festival (Special Presentation), Oct. 15, 2003. Running time: 52 MIN.

With: With: Geraldine Chaplin, Eugene Chaplin, Michael Chaplin, Peter Ustinov, Petula Clark, Arthur Cohn, Freddy Buache, Andre Favrz, Liselotte Pulver, Gabriele Di Rito. (English, French, German dialogue)

More Film

  • Inside Tinder's User-Controlled, Secret Streaming Sereis

    Inside Tinder's Secret Streaming Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Popular dating app Tinder is set to release a choose-your-own-adventure-style original series in early October, marking its first outing as a content financier and distributor, numerous individuals close to the project told Variety. The series is set against an impending apocalypse, one of the insiders noted, and asks the question “Who would you spend your [...]

  • Workforce

    David Zonana Talks ‘Workforce,’ Moral Challenges, Style

    MADRID  — The kernel, quality and qualities of David Zonana’s debut feature “Workforce” were already detectable in his very first short, 2014’s “Princess,” which prompted Variety to announce him as a Mexican director to track. Four years later, he’s come good on that promise with the Wild Bunch-sold “Workforce” (“Mano de obra”), his feature debut. [...]

  • Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep

    Swedes Call for Incentives to Keep Potential Runaways at Home

    Horror film “Midsommar” did it last year. A new adaptation of the Swedish classic “The Emigrants” will do it next year. Prestigious productions that could have taken advantage of beautiful Swedish locations and craft expertise continue to run away to foreign locations for lower costs and tax incentives. Despite having a strong film industry creatively [...]

  • Ted FarnsworthDeadline's Cocktails on the Croisette,

    Former MoviePass Chairman Ted Farnsworth Trying to Buy Failing Subscription Company

    Ted Farnsworth, the financier who helped set in motion MoviePass’s meteoric rise and precipitous fall, has submitted an offer to purchase the beleaguered subscription service and its parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics Inc. Financial terms of the offer were not disclosed, but Farnsworth, who served as Helios’ chairman and chief executive officer is also [...]

  • Billy Crystal Comedy 'Standing Up, Falling

    Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz Comedy 'Standing Up, Falling Down' Picked Up By Shout! Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

    Shout! Studios has acquired all North American rights to comedy feature “Standing Up, Falling Down,” starring Billy Crystal, Ben Schwartz and Eloise Mumford. The theatrical release for the film, which debuted at Tribeca Film Festival, is slated for early next year. Schwartz, whose credits include “Parks & Recreation” and “Blue Iguana,” voices the title character [...]

  • Cocina Belleza

    San Sebastian: ‘Cocinar Belleza’s’ Sergio Piera, Toni Segarra Talk Culinary Art

    Cognoscenti of culinary documentaries relish how open the genre is, driving deep into technique, amazing spectators by revealing the profession’s depths. Rarely, however, does a documentary decide to sidestep the well-known beats of the genre, step back and capture a bigger picture that asks about the nature of beauty and art rather than culinary craftsmanship [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content