FILMS… Chaplin (1992)



Charlie Chaplin is Downey Jnr’s Darling…


On filming Chaplin (1992)  – with the Cast, Crew and Characters – sharing Robert Downey Jnr’s Limelight.


Chaplin 1992 Trailer HD | Robert Downey Jr. | Geraldine Chaplin, Trailer Chan


This post was originally going to be just a wee trailer review on the Chaplin (1992) biopic movie. But I’m taking a different angle. I’m looking at the making of this film, starring a then 27-year-old Robert Downey Jnr in the titular role in this Richard Attenborough directed biopic. The articles and a video used for this post are linked at the end of this post, with the authors found in bold throughout my writing.

But first a little about the film. This film details Charlie Chaplin’s life from the ages of 5 to 84, with Robert Downey Jnr playing Chaplin for the majority of the movie.  As the elderly Chaplin (still Downey Jnr) reflects on this life and loves with his fictional autobiographical co-writing author,  George Hayden (Anthony Hopkins). The flashbacks showing his life in film, look at Chaplin from living in London beginning with his early childhood stage appearances in music halls from the age of four.

These parts of the film tell of his relationship with his brother, Sydney and their mother Hannah (Geraldine Chaplin) who was becoming unwell with mental health problems at this time. And these leading to Chaplin’s romance with his first love Hetty Kelly. Kelly was the lady who broke his heart after she turned down his marriage proposal just before he set off for America and the bright lights of Hollywood.

It then looks at Chaplin’s arrival in Hollywood, working for comic director Mack Sennett (Dan Aykroyd), and his subsequent worldwide success in the movies as a star and director. And his romance with his oft co-star, Edna Purviance (Penelope Ann Miller) and his bromance with Douglas Fairbanks (Kevin Kline).  More controversial Chaplin stories, be it his romance with Mildred Harris (Milla Jovovich) or the films The Immigrant (1917) and The Great Dictator (1940) are also added.

With other real-life names and events added to his star-studded biopic – with those from both in front of and behind the scenes – including Chaplin’s encounters with William Randolph Hearst,  J Edgar Hoover (Kevin Dunn) and the Nazis.  And the film explores his romances and marriages with Lita Grey, Paulette Goddard and Oona O’Neill. 

As well as wonderfully recreating a number of iconic scenes from Chaplin’s on and off scene moments. The film ending with Chaplin’s triumphant return to America –  in 1952 he was unable to return there after a trip to the UK, due to a revoked permit – for his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1972 Academy Awards.

Chaplin was made just before Attenborough returned in front of the camera, as Ian Hammond with those CGI  dinosaurs with Jeff Goldblum and co in Jurassic Park (1993). Wells cites Case (1992) who tells us how Attenborough approached Chaplin’s widow who gave her approval to his biopic project. A compliment indeed as she had reportedly turned down many offers since her husband’s death.

The biopic film was based on Chaplin’s autobiography, the aptly no nonsensed title My Autobiography by Chaplin and Chaplin: His Life and Art by David Robinson. The film script was written by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes and William Goldman.  And the accompanying soundtrack by John Barry, a composer who brought us many a soundtrack including James Bond films, Starcrash (1978) and Somewhere in Time (1980).

Notable behind the scenes acting names including Marisa Tomei, Nancy Travis, Dan Aykroyd, Penelope Ann Miller, David Duchovny, James Woods and Kevin Kline. It also features Geraldine Chaplin playing her own grandmother, Charlie Chaplin’s mother. And as for casting Chaplin?  Wikipedia tells the studio executives reportedly wanted Robin Williams, Jim Carrey or Billy Crystal to play the iconic comic.

However, Attenborough was adamant the part go to Robert Downey Jnr. And in one of those crazy twists of fate, I started writing this post on the 4th of April, which is coincidently Downey Jnrs’ birthday. Downey Jnr you know anywhere from before his Brat Pack days as an 80s douchebag and bully in Weird Science (1985) to his Marvel superhero, Iron Man in Captain America’s Civil War (2016) and beyond.

By 1992, Robert Downey Jnr had a few notable roles under his belt including dramas such as Less Than Zero (1997) and comedy roles in Chances Are (1989) and Soapdish (1991). The latter starring his Chaplin co-star Kevin Kline. However, his passion for Chaplin is evident here, as Diamond reports;

“Mr. Downey answers, “Chaplin is God. He’s beyond explanation. He’s an ideal, something the world created because they desperately needed him.”

Case tells of this touching tribute to Downey Jnr from Attenborough, which enlightens us more on his casting decision…

“Anyone can do The Tramp,” says Sir Dickie. “We had to find that thing behind the eyes that gives the idea that there’s a tremendous amount going in the mind. Very difficult to convey. You think of the number of movies that have conveyed genius. Paul Muni once or twice, Charles Laughton once or twice – there’s not many. This boy has it.”

Downey Jnr reportedly watched many of  Chaplin’s films in preparation for his role. There is much praise for Downey Jnr’s performance with this actor earning an Oscar nomination for his much-praised portrayal in the Best Actor category. And winning a BAFTA. Notable mentions were given from those most famous film critics, Roger Ebert and Barry Norman. Ebert says of Downey Jnr;

Robert Downey Jr. succeeds almost uncannily in playing Chaplin; the physical resemblance is convincing, but better is the way Downey captures Chaplin’s spirit, even in costume as the Tramp.

But Diamond adds from his interview with Downey Jnr, this a hard role to play…

“Learning pantomime was the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do,” Mr. Downey says. “I worked on it so hard. I’m not exactly an intuitive guy.”

So with the case for Downey Junior’s portrayal made by a Diamond. And a diamond in a Case of a treasured interview with Robert Downey Jnr. Both telling you the behind the scenes Chaplin tale. It’s now up to you (and me) to now watch this movie in full.

Having seen clips from this movie in the trailer and clips added online, it is mesmerising to see Downey Jnr in this role especially in videos where both the actors in key on-screen performances are compared. He certainly catches Chaplin’s nuances and gives a wonderful performance from the clips I’ve watched. As Penelope Ann Miller, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Kline never disappoint me, and with praise for this film and stars from Geraldine Chaplin, it’s now on the to find pile.

I’m intrigued to see this film now and to see if Robert Downey Jnr really does, as the critics say metaphorically fill these legend’s boots. And also I’d like to share – in another bizarre coincidence –  this charming story. Diamond tells us how Downey Jnr fills them literally too,

Last year, at the Museum of the Moving Image in London, he got someone to open a glass case so he could try on a pair of Chaplin’s shoes. “They fit perfectly,” he says. “We have the same feet”.


The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon, 2018 No 18

This film post was added to Christine Wehner and Little Bit of Classics The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon. Other film reviews with this cast on this site include Robert Downey Jnr in Chances Are, Captain Americas Civil War, Weird Science and Less Than Zero. Penelope Ann Miller stars in my reviews of Adventures in Babysitting, Awakenings and Kindergarten Cop. Marisa Tomei features in posts for Stupid, Crazy, Love and Captain America’s Civil War. James Woods stars in my The Gift of Love review and Dan Aykroyd in a review of The Blues Brothers. David Duchovny was written about in my post on Californication. Nancy Travis was written about in my 3 Men and a Little Lady post, Kevin Kline stars in The Big Chill and Kevin Dunn in Dave.




17 thoughts on “FILMS… Chaplin (1992)

  1. Good post. Chaplin is such a beautifully made picture with such tenderness from Downey’s acting and Attenborough’s direction. I do think it strays a bit too much from his works into the scandals of his personal life, but overall, I find the film touching and, dare I say, romantic.

  2. So, so enjoyed your Behind the Camera Post! It’s really fascinating and has definitely made me want to see the film, too. Watching the video, it’s amazing to think of how much work went into something that seems so simple like a fall…yet they rehearsed it so much.

    I’m really tickled by the idea of Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks, too. I always think of him playing the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance and he seems like a perfect choice for him.

    And thinking of how hard it is to learn pantomime or even falling really enhances one’s appreciation of Charlie Chaplin’s work, which always looks so easy on screen.

    Thanks so much for a fascinating post!

    • Thanks, I really enjoyed writing it. Was great to find so much about the making of it too, there are more videos about it on youtube.

      Kline also plays Errol Flynn in the “The Last of Robin Hood”movie, and do think like you do he’s perfect for these roles. Must admit to being kinda disappointed he didn’t play him in The Aviator.

      Thanks for having such a fun blogathon, and for the lovely chat tahat led to this post.

    • Too bad Kline never made a swashbuckling film of his own (or did he?). He would have been perfect. He has the panache and sense of fun to pull it off. I can’t think of too many other actors who have that.

      I so enjoyed chatting, too!

    • You are right there, think he would be a fantastic Captain Hook, if they remade Peter Pan (again). As for the chat, anytime.. pick a random post of mine and lets go! Then we can switch to one of yours…

  3. 1992?! It doesn’t feel like 26 years since that movie was released. There hasn’t been a time since first seeing Chaplin where I don’t watch Robert Downey Jr. and think I am seeing Charlie Chaplin. Especially that bit in Sherlock where he follows Irene through the streets.

  4. I see you didn’t waste a chance to make the Goldblum connection 😉
    Chaplin is a very good movie, and think you’ll like it immenselly. Robert Downey Jr was brilliant as Chaplin, and I think no other actor could have done what he did. I’d lvoe to rewatch it, too, and see that I can recognize more famous names now that I know more about film history and Chaplin’s own history.

    • Thanks Le, definitely sounds like one to check out. Having seen the clips I do think rakhes suited to the role but looking forward to seeing the others in the cast too especially Kevin Kline!

  5. It’s been some years since I’ve seen this film. I thought Robert Downey Jr was FAB in this role. I believed he was Chaplin! You’ve made me want to see this again, and now I have all your terrific research to keep in mind when I do see it again.

  6. I loved this film upon its’ release and have enjoyed it many times since. I agree that its’ a beautiful film and Attenborough brings a sensitivity to the film, with a healthy dash of sentimentality without it being saccharine. So many wonderful faces appear in this film that bring life to the names we have heard about from Chaplin’s life. And Downey is amazing in the role – it could be seen as a such a heavy load to take on one’s shoulders to play the great man. I’m going to watch it again real soon! Thanks so much for a great review.

Love your thoughts... but only if they are spoiler free!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.