"Comedy is knowing who you are and where you come from.... and perfection" impresario Fred Karno tells a young Charlie Chaplin. Director Richard Attenborough attempts to show how all three influenced the filmmaker, yet for all the marvellous elements on display in Chaplin, one crucial ingredient was left on the cutting room floor - comedy.
Clumsily framed by a fictional editor questioning Chaplin on his autobiography, the biopic literally ticks off seminal events in the comic's life. His mother's insanity; the death of his first love; his failed marriages; paternity suit; and exile from America are all crammed into the film's two and a half hour running time. Fortunately, the long duration also allows some time to cover his movies and this depiction of early filmmaking is a joy.
Robert Downey Jr is simply superb as Chaplin, portraying the comic from his teens through to his eighties. Yet while Downey is a fine comic actor in his own right, his pantomime and imitations of the little tramp inspire admiration rather than any laugh out loud moments. The rest of the film is also ideally cast, particularly Kevin Kline as Chaplin's long-time friend, Douglas Fairbanks.
Despite all the talent and care that went into this biopic, it is the film's ending montage of actual clips from Chaplin's films that finally produces the laughs and genuine emotion so sorely missing.
Rollie Totheroh is shown working with Chaplin at Mack Sennett's Keystone Studio. Totheroh actually worked at Essanay Studios at the time, and it was at this studio that the pair began their 37-year partnership.
The text at the end states that Mabel Normand never made another film after the scandal surrounding the death of a director (William Desmond Taylor) in 1922. She in fact signed on with Hal Roach Studios in 1926, and made another five films there before her early death in 1930.