Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Stealing Charlie Chaplin

I had the following conversation with Mrs. Deathrage about this documentary:

Me: I fell asleep watching this documentary last night, and I'd like to finish it. It's about that one time someone stole the corpse of Charlie Chaplin and held it for ransom.
Mrs. Deathrage, unblinking, daring me to scoff at her absurdity: That doesn't sound very interesting.

Utilizing interviews of various vintages, news footage from the period, and brief clips from his films, Stealing Charlie Chaplin examines the ghoulish two month period following Chaplin's death where inept bodysnatchers unearthed his simple wooden coffin from its grave in Switzerland and extorted his widow. 

The documentary stretches for time by recounting Chaplin's career; after being placed into a destitute home as a child and the deaths of his parents, Chaplin busked and pantomimed, being discovered by Keystone and becoming one's the world's greatest filmmakers. As his career waned, he was accused of sympathizing with communists and was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and was involved in a paternity suit orchestrated by the FBI. President Hoover and Senator McCarthy banned him from America, and revoked his visa. 

One rainy night nine weeks after his death, Chaplin's grave was disturbed, and his coffin stolen. Neo-Nazis were initially thought to be the ones to blame, stealing his corpse in response to his film The Great Dictator.

The documentary goes at length discussing the minutia of the ploy to capture the criminals while paying the ransom, where a police officer would drive Chaplin's Rolls disguised as a chauffeur wearing a Swiss Air Uniform.

Overlong and slow-moving, Stealing Charlie Chaplin could easily have been condensed to a short, but it's still a lurid, fascinating subject, no matter what Mrs. Deathrage thinks.

Don't tell her I said that.