Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd - review by Rupert Christiansen

Rupert Christiansen

Ladies and the Tramp

Charlie Chaplin


Chatto & Windus 272pp £14.99

When the mad Major in Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies writes his daughter a fabulously large cheque, he invalidates it by appending the signature ‘Charlie Chaplin’. It’s a telling instance of the unique hold that for some 25 years – from 1915 to 1940, say – the quaintly endearing personage of the Little Tramp, accident-prone and cheated of his due but doggedly hopeful, resourceful and resilient, exercised over the Western world’s imagination.

Chaplin was without doubt crucially important to the development of the nascent business of the cinema; he could even be said to have redefined the boundaries of farce (T S Eliot remarked that ‘he has escaped in his own way from the realism of the cinema and invented a rhythm’).

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