Monday, 15 October 2012

Charlie Chaplin - The First National Films

Having ended his contract with the Mutual Film Corporation amicably, Charlie Chaplin signed the world’s first One Million Dollar movie contract in June 1918. This contract gave him total control over production for a return of eight films. Chaplin decided to build a new studio off Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. The famous Chaplin Studios were designed in the style of English country cottages and contained everything Chaplin would need to develop, film and cut his movies. Chaplin eventually sold the studios in 1953 and they are now owned by Jim Henson Company.

Chaplin began work on his first film for First National in early 1918 and A Dog’s Life was released in April. Over the next four years Chaplin shot eight films at his new studio for First National during one of the most turbulent times of his career. In September 1918 he married the seventeen year old actress Mildred Harris in what was and still is a highly controversial marriage. Harris lied to Chaplin about being pregnant and the marriage ended in a messy divorce in 1920. During the same period the star became frustrated with First National’s impatience and lack of concern for quality and in 1919, while still under contract with First National created United Artists with fellow actors and directors Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith. The venture which was self funded and offered the Hollywood stars the chance to work freely and independently although Chaplin himself didn’t make a film with the company until 1922 as he was still under contract with First National.

During his time with First National Chaplin created his first feature film, The Kid and used many of the actors who had been with him since his days with Essanay such as Edna Purviance, John Rand, Henry Bergman and Albert Austin but also introduced several new actors to his stock group including Loyal Underwood, Tom Wilson and his brother/business manager Syd. 

As with the Essanay Films and Mutual Films I’ll be watching each of Chaplin’s First National Films and linking the reviews below.  

1918.  A Dog's Life 8/10
1918. The Bond 5/10
1918. Shoulder Arms 7/10
1919. Sunnyside 6/10
1919. A Day's Pleasure 7/10
1921. The Kid 10/10
1921. The Idle Class 6/10
1922. Pay Day 7/10
1923. The Pilgrim 3/10

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