Filmmaking techniquesChaplin never spoke more than cursorily about his filmmaking methods, claiming such a thing would be tantamount to a magician spoiling his own illusion. In fact, until he began making spoken dialogue films with The Great Dictator in 1940, Chaplin never shot from a completed script. The method he developed, once his Essanay contract gave him the freedom to write for and direct himself, was to start from a vague premise—for example "Charlie enters a health spa" or "Charlie works in a pawn shop." Chaplin then had sets constructed and worked with his stock company to improvise gags and "business" around them, almost always working the ideas out on film. As ideas were accepted and discarded, a narrative structure would emerge, frequently requiring Chaplin to reshoot an already-completed scene that might have otherwise contradicted the story. Chaplin's unique filmmaking techniques became known only after his death, when his rare surviving outtakes and cut sequences were carefully examined in the 1983 British documentary Unknown Chaplin.
This is one reason why Chaplin took so much longer to complete his films than those of his rivals. In addition, Chaplin was an incredibly exacting director, showing his actors exactly how he wanted them to perform and shooting scores of takes until he had the shot he wanted. (Animator Chuck Jones, who lived near Charlie Chaplin's Lone Star studio as a boy, remembered his father saying he watched Chaplin shoot a scene more than a hundred times until he was satisfied with it. This combination of story improvisation and relentless perfectionism—which resulted in days of effort and thousands of feet of film being wasted, all at enormous expense—often proved very taxing for Chaplin, who in frustration would often lash out at his actors and crew, keep them waiting idly for hours or, in extreme cases, shutting down production altogether.
Comparison with other silent comicsSince the 1960s, Chaplin's films have been compared to those of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (the other two great silent film comedians of the time), especially among the loyal fans of each comic.
The three had different styles: Chaplin had a strong affinity for sentimentality and pathos (which was popular in the 1920s), Lloyd was renowned for his everyman persona and 1920s optimism, and Keaton adhered to onscreen stoicism with a cynical tone more suited to modern audiences.
Commercially, Chaplin made some of the highest-grossing films in the silent era; The Gold Rush is the fifth with US$4.25 million and The Circus is the seventh with US$3.8 million. However, Chaplin's films combined made about US$10.5 million while Harold Lloyd's grossed US$15.7 million. Lloyd was far more prolific, releasing twelve feature films in the 1920s while Chaplin released just three. Buster Keaton's films were not nearly as commercially successful as Chaplin's or Lloyd's even at the height of his popularity, and only received belated critical acclaim in the late 1950s and 1960s.
There is evidence that Chaplin and Keaton, who both got their start in vaudeville, thought highly of one another: Keaton stated in his autobiography that Chaplin was the greatest comedian that ever lived, and the greatest comedy director, whereas Chaplin welcomed Keaton to United Artists in 1925, advised him against his disastrous move to MGM in 1928, and for his last American film, Limelight, wrote a part specifically for Keaton as his first on-screen comedy partner since 1915.
Composer and songwriterChaplin wrote or co-wrote the scores and songs for many of his films. Smile, which he composed for his film Modern Times, hit number 2 on the UK charts when sung by Nat King Cole in the 1950s. It was also Michael Jackson's favourite song. This Is My Song, written and composed by Chaplin for his film A Countess from Hong Kong, hit number 1 on the UK charts when sung by Petula Clark in the 1960s. In 1973, Chaplin won the Oscar for Best Film Score for his film Limelight. Chaplin was not the only member of his family with musical talent; his nephew, Spencer Dryden was the drummer for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted band, Jefferson Airplane.
Politicspolitical sympathies always lay with the left. His silent films made prior to the Great Depression typically did not contain overt political themes or messages, apart from the Tramp's plight in poverty and his run-ins with the law, but his 1930s films were more openly political. Modern Times depicts workers and poor people in dismal conditions. The final dramatic speech in The Great Dictator, which was critical of following patriotic nationalism without question, and his vocal public support for the opening of a second European front in 1942 to assist the Soviet Union in the Second World War were controversial.
First World War which led to public anger, although his two sons saw service in the Army in Europe. For most of the Second World War he was fighting serious criminal and civil charges related to his involvement with actress Joan Barry (see below). After the war, his 1947 black comedy, Monsieur Verdoux showed a critical view of capitalism. Chaplin's final American film, Limelight, was less political and more autobiographical in nature. His following European-made film, A King in New York (1957), satirised the political persecution and paranoia that had forced him to leave the U.S. five years earlier.
Other controversiesDuring the First World War, Chaplin was criticised in the British press for not joining the Army. He had in fact presented himself for service, but was denied for being too small at 5'5" and underweight. Chaplin raised substantial funds for the war effort during war bond drives not only with public speaking at rallies but also by making, at his own expense, The Bond, a comedic propaganda film used in 1918. The lingering controversy may have prevented Chaplin from receiving a knighthood in the 1930s. A 1916 propaganda short film Zepped with Chaplin was discovered in 2009.
For Chaplin's entire career, some level of controversy existed over claims of Jewish ancestry. Nazi propaganda in the 1930s and 40s prominently portrayed him as Jewish (named Karl Tonstein) relying on articles published in the U.S. press before, and FBI investigations of Chaplin in the late 1940s also focused on Chaplin's ethnic origins. There is no documentary evidence of Jewish ancestry for Chaplin himself. For his entire public life, he fiercely refused to challenge or refute claims that he was Jewish, saying that to do so would always "play directly into the hands of anti-Semites." Although baptised in the Church of England, Chaplin was thought to be an agnostic for most of his life.
Chaplin's lifelong attraction to younger women remains another enduring source of interest to some. His biographers have attributed this to a teenage infatuation with Hetty Kelly, whom he met in Britain while performing in the music hall, and which possibly defined his feminine ideal. Chaplin clearly relished the role of discovering and closely guiding young female stars; with the exception of Mildred Harris, all of his marriages and most of his major relationships began in this manner.