Charlie Chaplin

TCM Discoveries: The Great Dictator

Chaplin Great Dictator

I’ve been an avid viewer of Turner Classic Movies for about 10 years now, so to say that TCM is responsible for introducing me to a few good movies is putting it mildly. Thanks to TCM, I’ve been introduced to cult classics like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, pre-code essentials like Gold Diggers of 1933 and Red Dust, masterpieces of international cinema like 8½, plus countless American classics. TCM has consistently been such an incredible way for me to discover movies that when I came up with the idea of my annual Blogging Under the Stars event in 2011, the entire point was to discourage myself from watching the same movies I’ve seen a dozen times and discover new things instead (and every year has been a big success in that respect.)

When Nitrate Diva announced her TCM Discoveries Blogathon, where all participants write about one special movie they discovered because of Turner Classic Movies, I instantly knew the movie I wanted to write about. Out of the hundreds of amazing movies I’ve discovered over the past decade, there’s one movie that stands out from the rest because of the huge influence it had in shaping my taste in movies and putting me on the path to being the movie nerd I am today. That movie would be Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

Sophia Petrillo Picture It

Picture it! Ferris State University, February 2005, semi-early on some Saturday morning.

At the time, two of my favorite things to do on a Saturday morning were watch The Soup on E! and laugh at really bad infomercials. This particular Saturday morning, I woke up a little earlier than usual for no apparent reason. The Soup wasn’t on yet so I flipped through the channels looking for infomercials to make fun of, but I was getting a little tired of watching the same infomercials over and over again. Then I remembered that TCM was having their annual 31 Days of Oscar programming event so I figured I’d see what they were playing. Whatever it was, it had to be better than watching people fail at cooking yet again.

I turned on TCM in time for The Great Dictator. I’d heard of the movie and knew it was considered one of the all-time great film comedies, so I figured I’d keep watching. I’d never seen any Charlie Chaplin movie before, but I knew he was a legend, so I was certainly intrigued to see one of his movies. It didn’t take long for me to understand his appeal. Not only was the movie absolutely hilarious and extremely daring for its time, but watching him move was absolutely hypnotic; I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen. The famous globe dance scene was one of the most fascinating things I’d ever watched.

Chaplin Globe Great Dictator

When the movie was over, I was hooked. I spent a considerable part of the day reading about Chaplin on the Internet, learning all I could about his life and his career. Although The Great Dictator isn’t a silent movie, I credit it with being the movie that got me interested in silent film because it made me want to see any Chaplin silent I could get my hands on. As I saw more of his silent films and learned more about the film industry during Chaplin’s heyday, the more I wanted to see movies starring other legends of silent comedy like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as well as movies starring some of Chaplin’s contemporaries like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. (On a related note, a couple of months later in April 2005, TCM had this month-long spotlight called April Fools, during which they played a ton of movies by people like Chaplin and Keaton. As someone who was newly interested in those types of film comedians, that spotlight was pure gold and remains one of my favorite months ever on TCM.)

I hesitate to call The Great Dictator my gateway drug into becoming a classic film fan because it was far from being the first classic film I’d ever seen or liked and I clearly had enough of an interest in them to know February is Oscar month on TCM. But it was the movie that made me realize that classic films were my favorite types of films. From then on, I started watching TCM very regularly, making a point to look through their monthly schedules and make notes of anything that sounded interesting so I wouldn’t forget to watch or record any movie that intrigued me.

Thanks to Charlie Chaplin and The Great Dictator, I was not only introduced to silent film, it pushed me into the online classic film community, where, over the years, I’ve met so many wonderful people and made so many good friends. The fact that, essentially, all of this ended up happening because I was tired of watching infomercials one Saturday morning is pretty wild to me.

The Nitrate Diva TCM Discoveries Blogathon

Visit The Nitrate Diva to read about other bloggers’ favorite TCM discoveries as part of TCM’s #LetsMovie celebration.

The Pilgrim (1923)

Chaplin The PilgrimAfter escaping from prison, the Pilgrim (Charlie Chaplin) steals a minister’s outfit to replace his prison uniform and goes to the train station. Picking a destination at random, he heads out toward Devil’s Gulch, Texas. It just so happens that a church in Devil’s Gulch is awaiting the arrival of a new minister, so when the Pilgrim gets off the train, he is greeted by a sheriff waiting to escort him to his new parish, forcing him to keep up the minister rouse.

Parishioner Mrs. Brown has invited the church’s new minister to come live with her and her daughter (Edna Purviance). The Pilgrim and the daughter are attracted to each other, but some of the visitors to the Brown household are not quite as pleasant, including a couple with an obnoxious child and the Pilgrim’s former cell mate. Knowing his former cell mate plans to steal Mrs. Brown’s mortgage payment, he does everything he can to stop him. When his cellmate gets away with the money anyway, the Pilgrim goes after him and gets the money back. But while he was away, the sheriff shows up at the Brown residence and tells them who their new boarder really is.

Even though I’m a huge Chaplin fan, I admit that I have a tendency to stick to his major features and tend to overlook the shorter ones he did before becoming an independent artist. The Pilgrim reminded me of how wrong I am for doing that. The Pilgrim has a lot of really great comedy bits, particularly the scenes involving the disastrous afternoon visit with the poorly behaved child and the hat cake. The Pilgrim is also the last film Chaplin starred in with one of his greatest leading ladies, Edna Purviance, who I’ve always been quite fond of. If anything, The Pilgrim made me want to revisit more of Chaplin’s shorter films because they often have much of the brilliance and fun of the features but in a shorter time frame.

The Pink Panther, Silent Films, and Me

Pink Panther Title Card

Like so very many people, I spent a good amount of my childhood watching cartoons.  I remember being fond of Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, but my favorite was definitely the Pink Panther.  Oh, did I ever love the Pink Panther!  In my book, he was the funniest of the cartoon characters I watched and I loved that aura of coolness he had.  And perhaps I’ve always had a soft spot for the stylish animation and Henry Mancini music.

But as I got a bit older and the cartoons were being shown on television less frequently, I ended up taking a break from my old friend the Pink Panther.  I didn’t re-discover the Pink Panther until just a few years ago when I bought a DVD collection of Pink Panther cartoons.  When I started watching them, my first reaction was, “Oh, it’s wonderful to be seeing these again!” My second reaction was, “Wow, no wonder I grew up to be a big silent film fan!”

Even though I’d been a silent film fan for years by that point, it had never occurred to me that all those Pink Panther cartoons I watched as a kid may have helped lay the foundation for me to appreciate silent film comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd.  But in hindsight, it makes perfect sense.  Although the Pink Panther speaks in a couple of cartoons and some cartoons feature narration, most Pink Panther cartoons are short silent films very similar to the short films Chaplin and Keaton made early in their careers.

Several Pink Panther cartoons like The Pink Phink and Pink Pajamas feature scenarios I can easily imagine Chaplin or Keaton having a lot of fun with.  We Give Pink Stamps in particular is Chaplin-esque to the extent that I would love to know what, if any, thoughts Chaplin had about it.  One setting Chaplin saw a lot of comedy potential in was department stores, which he put to great use in 1916’s The Floorwalker and 1936’s Modern Times.  Not only is We Give Pink Stamps done in the same spirit as those Chaplin films, it also has some jokes that I’m sure Chaplin would have loved to do himself if only they weren’t impossible for a human being to do, even with special effect trickery available at the time.

A popular topic amongst classic movie fans is which movies do you show to somebody to get them interested classic movies.  Silent movies are always tricky because so many people are married to the idea that silent movies are the most dull, creaky, strange, and antiquated movies you can possibly watch.  But if you’re looking to turn someone on to silent films, particularly children, why not start with some Pink Panther cartoons?  Their stylish mid-century look really disguises the fact that they are basically silent films and might be a good way to lead in to some Chaplin, Keaton, or Lloyd.

Congratulations to True Classics on four years of blogging!

Congratulations to True Classics on four years of blogging!

What’s on TCM: April 2013

Olivier, Laurence_01Looks like we’re in for another busy month on TCM!  TCM has finally broken their long streak of making actresses the Star of the Month by giving the honor to Laurence Olivier in April.

Starting this month, every Friday night will be dedicated to a new series called Friday Night Spotlight.  Each month, Robert Osborne and a different guest co-host will introduce films dealing with a particular theme.  The first Friday Night Spotlight co-host is Cher, who has selected a number of movies with strong female characters, focusing on themes such as motherhood and women in the workplace each week.

If you’re a fan of TCM Underground, be sure to note that starting this month, it has been moved from Friday to Saturday nights.  The 2:00 AM start time remains the same, though.


What’s on TCM: April 2012

Happy April, everybody!  TCM has a pretty fun schedule this month, but it’s organized a little differently than usual.  Usually things like the Star of the Month nights get one night each week.  But this month, those nights are all in one week from Monday to Friday.  Doris Day is the April Star of the Month so her movies will be on every night from April 2-6.  TCM will also be doing a spring break week this month from April 16-20, so every night will be fun, beachy movies like Gidget and Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies.  Now, onto the schedule:


What’s on TCM: January 2012

Happy 2012, everybody! January is, as always, chock full of good stuff on TCM.  The first star of the month in 2012 is Angela Lansbury and her movies can be seen every Wednesday night this month.  Every Thursday night will be dedicated to showcasing the work of cinematographer Jack Cardiff.  With no further ado, let’s get to my picks for January.


Fashion in Film: My 10 Favorite Costumes

10.  Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame” dress from Gilda

On a lot of other women, that gown would have been pretty unremarkable.  But Rita Hayworth had so much charisma in that movie and had such an incredible screen presence that she turned what could have been a forgettable gown into the most iconic costume of her career.

9.  Elizabeth Taylor’s white slip from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

This right here is proof that Elizabeth Taylor could take the simplest garment and turn it into a definitive screen costume.  Nobody worked a white slip better than Elizabeth Taylor.

8.  All of Norma Shearer’s gowns from Marie Antoinette

I’d be very hard pressed to pick just one favorite costume from Marie Antoinette.  Adrian put an enormous amount of time and effort into designing all those exquisite gowns, no detail was overlooked.  They are all works of art.

7.  Debbie Reynolds’ “Good Morning” dress from Singin’ in the Rain.

Plain and simply, she looks absolutely adorable in it.  She had a lot of wonderful costumes in Singin’ in the Rain, but whenever I think about her in that movie, this is the first costume that comes to mind.

6.  Myrna Loy’s striped party dress from The Thin Man

I just think this dress is pure Nora Charles.  It’s fun, but classy.  She looks like the life of the party.

5.  Grace Kelly’s black and white outfit from Rear Window

This just epitomizes Grace Kelly to me.  It is so clean and simple, it’s not bogged down with a lot of accessories or jewelry, but it’s one of the most elegant dresses I’ve ever seen.

4.  Jean Harlow’s party dress from Dinner at Eight

It’s slinky and ridiculously glamorous.  This is Jean Harlow at her finest.

3.  Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedo from Morocco

In an era when women rarely wore pants, Marlene Dietrich went all out and donned a tuxedo.  Not shocking by today’s standards, but it’s no surprise that her tux caused a commotion when Morocco was released in 1930.

2.  Gloria Swanson’s outfit from her first scene in Sunset Boulevard

This outfit tells us right off everything that we need to know about Norma Desmond.  She looks rich, she looks like a movie star, and she’s definitely got some issues.

1.  Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp

As far as I’m concerned, this is the most iconic movie costume of all time.  It doesn’t just represent one movie, it represents Chaplin’s entire body of work and it’s a symbol for that whole era of film history.  When you see that hat, the cane, those shoes, that mustache, there’s no mistaking him for anybody else.  Even when people who don’t know silent films try to describe silent films, odds are they’re going to describe Charlie Chaplin and what he wore.