Three quintessential works in American film history this week, two by an Englishman, one by an Irishman: (1) Charlie Chaplin’s classic 1925 comedy The Gold Rush [Monday, Dec. 8, AMC, 46, 6 A.M.], the first full-length feature to star his internationally indelible creation, the Tramp. I was sort of weaned on this, seeing it first at the Museum of Modern Art in the mid-40′s when the picture was only 20 years old. Now, this 72-year-old example of Chaplin’s unique genius with pathos comedy-remember, Charlie was, at the time of this movie’s initial release, the most popular, deeply beloved human being on earth, maybe in the history of the world-retains its magic glow as the Tramp goes through hell in the Yukon. (2) Chaplin’s next picture came out three years later, in that final extraordinary year of the golden non-talking era, and the first-ever Academy Awards celebration gave Charlie a Special Oscar for acting, writing, directing and producing so brilliantly in 1928′s The Circus [Tuesday, Dec. 9, AMC, 46, 6 A.M.]. A kind of extended metaphor not only of Chaplin’s own particular art-broad (and subtle) comedy borne out of calamity or dire tragedy-but on the whole of show business, it ends with the most poignant image of all the Chaplin pictures: the circus wagons gone, the Tramp alone, with only the torn paper star blowing off as he turns and walks away while the sun sets on the silent screen. (3) And one of John Ford’s earliest masterpieces of Americana, Henry Fonda being the ideal and very human Abraham Lincoln in 1939′s Young Mr. Lincoln [Monday, Dec. 8, AMC, 46, 1 P.M.]. Starting with Lincoln’s intense, tragically short love affair with Ann Rutledge, his decision to study law, the film moves simply, eloquently, into a version of one of Lincoln’s first law cases-a murder trial-Lincoln prevailing through plain common sense, profound humanity and homespun values: all deeply Old American grain. Among Ford’s most evocative and poetic works, it is the first of his to dramatize a kind of spiritual transcendence, and his distinctive visual signature is as memorable as Chaplin’s persona. Told once that his camera angles were not interesting, Chaplin responded, “They don’t have to be interesting- I am interesting.”
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