A KING IN NEW YORK
(director/writer: Charles Chaplin; cinematographer: Georges Perinal; editor: John Seabourne; music: Charles Chaplin/Eddy Marnay; cast: Charles Chaplin (King Shadov), Maxine Audley (Queen Irene), Jerry Desmonde (Prime Minister Voudel), Oliver Johnston (Ambassador Jaume), Dawn Addams (Ann Kay), Sid James (Johnson), Michael Chaplin (Rupert Macabee); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Charles Chaplin/Jerome Epstein; Key Video; 1957)
“The coming of talkie films has been unkind to the legendary silent film comic, Charlie Chaplin.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The coming of talkie films has been unkind to the legendary silent film comic, Charlie Chaplin (“Limelight”/”The Great Dictator”/”Modern Times”), whose voice has a smug tone. It presents him in an egotistical light, and his constant chatter is preachy and moralizing. “King” was a failed effort by an embittered 68-year-old Chaplin, in exile in England, trying to make a hard-hitting satirical statement about the evils of McCarthyism after his inhospitable treatment he received in the United States during the Communist witch hunts. Chaplin’s penultimate fantasy comedy of manners film is set in America, but made in England (shot on a soundstage at Shepperton Studios). What never comes through is any sense of comedy, from someone considered by many as the greatest silent screen comedian.
Chaplin plays King Shadov of Estrovia, a benign king deposed in a revolution because he opposed nuclear weapons and planned to use atomic energy for peaceful purposes. He comes to New York to seek asylum but soon finds he’s broke, as his prime minister has stolen the royal treasury and vanished. Stranded in a New York luxury hotel without any money, the King has difficulty adjusting to the hustle and bustle of life in a commercially crass America and has difficulty getting the right people interested in his plan for the peaceful use of nuclear power.
King Shadov soon meets a perky young television producer, Ann Kay (Dawn Addams), and tries to help her by letting her capitalize on his royalty as he agrees to plug her deodorant products on television. The King proves to have a screen presence and is deluged by offers from advertising agencies for further work. Shadov, after being at first reluctant, soon figures out that the advertising gig may be a way to earn enough money to keep him living like a king in exile, and he uses the capitalist system he just mocked so he can remain in the country and push his peaceful nuclear plan.
The King soon discovers the sinister side of the United States, as he crosses paths at a progressive children’s school with an unhappy liberal child prodigy, Rupert Macabee (Michael Chaplin, Chaplin’s own 11-year-old son), whose parents are about to be jailed as part of the anti-Communist hysteria of the period for not ratting out to the HUAC names of other Reds. The boy angrily spouts Marxist dogma and the even-tempered King acts to clear things up by denouncing all undemocratic governments. Eventually the kid sells out as an informer to save his parents, and his compromised effort is viewed in an unpleasant light by the King. It’s all rather tedious, mawkish and shapeless cinema, but it gives Chaplin a chance to voice his outrage at America’s political fascism. In the end, the King meets with the Congressional committee investigating him and makes them look foolish as they ask dumb questions. But the King leaves the States, feeling he’s done all the good that he can do for now (which sounds a little pompous!).
The film wasn’t commercially screened in the U.S. until 1973, when bygones were bygones, and Chaplin’s long and successful movie career overrode the political tension that put a temporary crimp in his career.
REVIEWED ON 4/16/2007 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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