Since I’m in a unique position where the subject of my movie marathon is director, writer, star, and more of his films, and that the character he portrays in all films are the same (the tramp)… instead of the usual post-marathon awards, I’ll count down Chaplin’s best moments as “The Tramp”:
10) The Kid Prepares Breakfast – The Kid (1921)
I doubt that many people would immediately recall this scene when pressed to come up with classic Chaplin moments, as it doesn’t immediately stand out. However, I feel that this is one of the more integral scenes in The Kid. This is where we see that the kid doesn’t play second fiddle to the tramp. That they aren’t so much a father-son relationship than partners who rely on each other for love and care. It’s more amusing and endearing than funny (although that blanket-into-a-poncho bit is quite clever). It shows the heart at the center of the story and captures the tone of the film quite perfectly.
09) Department Store Skating – Modern Times (1936)
This was once my favorite scene from Modern Times, but repeated viewings have lessened its effect a bit. Still, it shows how graceful and clever Chaplin can be with his physical comedy. Nowadays, slapstick is relegated to toilet humor and cheap gags, so this is a nice reminder how smart and sophisticated slapstick can be. I seriously thought for sometime that Chaplin was actually skating by the edge of floor in this scene. Only later on did I realize that what seems to be the empty space where one could fall is in fact only a drawing and that Chaplin was in no real danger. That only goes to show the meticulous production design that went into this whole department store sequence, and actually throughout the whole film.
08) Seeing Chicken – The Gold Rush (1925)
A scene that has been copied and parodied so many times over that it has become such a classic. It’s a great illustration at Chaplin’s ability to get a laugh and his technical mastery of the craft at that time. To see such an effect utilized now is common, but to see it used like that over eight decades ago is impressive.
07) Fighting in the Streets – The Kid (1921)
I don’t think any other single moment has made me laugh in The Kid as that where Chaplin tries to break up a fight involving the kid versus a bigger neighborhood boy, and then all of a sudden cheers along with the crowd once he sees that his kid is winning the fistfight. An excellent example of Chaplin’s ability to seamlessly and believably change from one expression/emotion to another so quickly, and also a great example of Chaplin’s perfect comedic timing.
06) Bonk! & Schadenfreude! – The Circus (1928)
And speaking of Chaplin’s perfect comic timing, I have to do a cheat here as I cite two different, yet very similarly comedic scenes from The Circus. No idea what to call then so I’ll just name them:
Bonk! – That moment early on in the film where Chaplin and another pickpocket try to hide from the authorities by pretending to be mechanical installments at a carnival. Chaplin takes the role of someone hitting another person in the head, and unfortunately for the pickpocket, he is that other person. The setup is already hilarious on its own, but the way Chaplin reacts after getting one free hit after another on the pickpocket takes the comedy to another level.
Schadenfreude! – The scene later on in the film where the girl and the tramp watch the tightrope walker perform for the first time. The setup is that the tramp is in love with the girl but is stuck in the “friend zone” while the girl is in love with the tightrope walker. The girl asks the tramp to watch with her as the tightrope walker performs. The tramp reluctantly agrees after some persuading and acts incredibly bored, uninterested and unimpressed. Yet, as soon as the tightrope walker misses a step and starts to be in danger of falling, the tramp suddenly erupts with unbridled glee, claps, and cheers in what is one of the biggest laughs of the film.