This Review is From Publishers Weekly
Reviewed on 08/16/2023
* Charlie Chaplin vs. America: When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided
Scott Eyman. Simon & Schuster, $29.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-982176-35-8 9781982176358
Biographer Eyman (20th Century Fox) presents a riveting account of the events that led the US government in 1952 to banish Charlie Chaplin, a Brit by birth who had lived in America for decades after first arriving as a teenager. According to Eyman, Chaplin earned detractors in his adopted country as his films became more overtly political, with some complaining that his 1940 anti-Nazi satire The Great Dictator was intended to undermine American neutrality in WWII. After Chaplin gave a series of speeches in 1942 advocating for the opening of a second European front to support Russia, the FBI “sailed into the Chaplin business full-time,” investigating him for alleged communist sympathies and amassing a 1,900-page file on him. The Bureau leaked dubious information about Chaplin’s sex life to his critics in the press, most notably gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who used the occasion of an “ugly, trumped-up paternity suit” to drive public opinion against the filmmaker. He fell into such disfavor that when he was denied reentry to the US after leaving for the London premier of his film Limelight, he didn’t bother fighting the decision. Eyman gives history a sense of urgency by highlighting the danger that government interference poses to artistic speech, and his account of how “Chaplin’s forced exile destroyed him as an artist” is affecting. Readers will be rapt. (Oct.)
From Library Journal:
Reviewed on 10/01/2023
This Review is From Kirkus Books
Reviewed on 07/16/2023
CHARLIE CHAPLIN VS. AMERICA [STARRED REVIEW!]
When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided
Author: Scott Eyman
Review Issue Date: July 15, 2023
Online Publish Date: June 20, 2023
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Price (Hardcover): $29.99
Publication Date: October 31, 2023
ISBN (Hardcover): 9781982176358
A history of the ideological, cultural, and personal campaign against the motion picture industry's most independent and incandescent light of the 20th century.
Eyman, the author of biographies of Cary Grant, John Wayne, John Ford, and other major names in film history, presents a beautifully composed and unique look at how Chaplin was characterized as an immoral sexual deviant and Soviet-sympathizing subversive. The author vividly documents the federal government's relentless pursuit of Chaplin, particularly the notorious House Un-American Affairs Committee and J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, whose file on Chaplin grew to 1,900 pages, many of which were leaked to the artist's most mendacious and vociferous antagonists in the press. Eyman also showcases his keen knowledge of filmmaking by dissecting and analyzing Chaplin's work, particularly focusing on specific elements of his most socially significant productions: the darker, farcical aspects of capitalism in Modern Times, the anti-Nazi sendup of Hitler in The Great Dictator, which found him besieged by the then-isolationist US government, the British government, and the Nazis themselves; and the audience-disappointing Monsieur Verdoux, the idea for which Chaplin purchased from Orson Welles. Eyman's insightful, articulate approach illuminates the fruits of his lifelong research, whether he is discussing Chaplin's grilling during a paternity suit in which he was wrongfully convicted (which gave aid and comfort to his enemies), his hands-on directing and the graceful athleticism of his acting; or the consistency of his somewhat naïve political views amid the tectonic shifts in American political sentiment following World War II. While Eyman clearly admires Chaplin, he does not descend into idolatry. The author starkly portrays Chaplin's personal shortcomings and idiosyncrasies as well as his winning, losing, and recapturing of his audience. Eyman also shows his happiness and domestic tranquility in his marriage to Oona O'Neill, whom he wed when he was 54 and she 18, a situation that established another launching pad for public outrage.
A brilliant must-read about the epic and turbulent life and times of a cinematic titan.
Reviewed by Leonard Maltin on 10/30/2023
CHARLIE CHAPLIN VS. AMERICA
When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided
Author: Scott Eyman
At first glance this new book by premier film historian and biographer Eyman would seem to limit its coverage to the period of the 1940s—when Chaplin was burdened by a bogus paternity suit and accused of being a Communist—until his death on Christmas Day, 1977. But Eyman incorporates eye-opening details about Chaplin’s entire life and career throughout the narrative, making this one of the finest surveys of the man and the artist ever written.
Like the author, I first fell in love with Chaplin as a boy after seeing him in Robert Youngson’s comedy compilations. I saved up to buy 8mm prints of his Mutual short subjects from Blackhawk Films and read everything I could about Chaplin. I also vividly recall the disappointment I felt when I devoured his long-awaited autobiography in 1966. It was stuffy and uninteresting to me as a young movie buff. I didn’t care that he spent time with the Royal family or other members of the social elite. I wanted to know more about the making of his films. Eyman casts a clear eye on all of this and posits that moving to Switzerland removed Chaplin from everyday life and smothered his artistry.
There are so many takeaways from this volume I don’t know where to begin. I’ve never fully appreciated Charlie’s kinship with his half-brother Sydney until now. His relationship with his onetime leading lady, Edna Purviance, is evoked through correspondence that she maintained until her death. And, thanks to granular research by Marx Brothers expert Robert Bader, it is now possible to confirm without question that Charlie and the Marxes (or Groucho, at the very least) visited the same brothel in Salt Lake City in September of 1913. Groucho recalled that Charlie was too shy to take a girl upstairs for sex and spent the evening playing in the parlor with the Madame’s dog.
Charlie Chaplin had so many facets that it wouldn’t be possible for one author to explore them all in detail, but by casting a narrower net—and allowing for digressions—Eyman has produced a gem of a book.