Saturday, November 22, 2014

Charlie's JFK Connection

In the early stages of the screenplay for A Countess From Hong Kong, the character of Ogden Mears, played by Marlon Brando, was loosely based on President John F. Kennedy (in the original story, Mears was planning to run for president.) After Kennedy was assassinated, however, Chaplin revised the story because he didn’t want to offend the Kennedy family, especially Mrs. Kennedy.

Charlie with Marlon Brando on the set of A Countess From Hong Kong

Several years after Countess was released, producer and Chaplin family friend, Jerry Epstein, met Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary. Epstein recalled their conversation in his book, Remembering Charlie:
"He said that Kennedy had planned to do something about Chaplin’s exile. Salinger was supposed to visit him and invite him back to the United States. But of course in the meantime Kennedy had been killed. Salinger also mentioned that he’d seen A Countess From Hong Kong. ‘I know who that picture was based on’ he told me. ‘Mr. Chaplin captured it very accurately.' So I guess we didn’t disguise the Kennedy aspect too well."

6 comments:

  1. Interesting. I had no idea, but then, I haven't seen this film yet. Has anyone seen it and is it worth looking at? I know from reading Gilbert's book and Chaplin's autobiography that the story was one he wrote in the 30's for Goddard and Cooper originally, but I've never actually sat down to watch it. I hear it's terrible. I hear it's just dated and not that bad. I am wondering where Chaplin fans here lean.

    I recently sat through the travesty known as "Paris Model" just to watch Paulette's performance in that film. I didn't even finish the film after her storyline was finished. So really, I am open to sitting through bad films.

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    1. I've seen Countess a couple of times. I think it's a film all fans should see at least once. It is a bit old-fashioned and would have been a much better film had Charlie made it in the 1930s or '40s as he had originally intended. Brando and Sophia Loren have no chemistry at all. I've read that Cary Grant was originally considered the main role, I think he would have been so much better than Brando, who was very stiff and seemed ill at ease. You can tell he and Sophia Loren are just mimicking Charlie at times. On the plus side, I think the soundtrack is one of his best and it's fun to see Charlie's cameo. The ending is also very Chaplinesque, in my opinion. I found a cheap copy of the film on ebay a few years ago, but I think it's available on youtube now.

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    2. I agree, it's not bad at all. I also agree Brando was miscast. Imagine it with someone like Jack Lemmon. Also agree with this:

      "Seen today...no longer linked to a particular period, just a work from an undefined past, (The Countess from Hong Kong) has acquired a gentle,surprising charm." David Robinson CHAPLIN - HIS LIFE AND ART (1985)

      Phil

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    3. Jack Lemmon would have been great too. A friend of mine once said that she would like to have seen JL and Shirley MacLaine in the lead roles.

      Chaplin took the failure of this film pretty hard evidently. Were the critics expecting another GOLD RUSH or CITY LIGHTS? Margaret Rutherford is quoted somewhere as calling the critics in regard to this film "tiresome gentlemen." I have to agree. However, I must admit that the last time I watched COUNTESS, I cringed at the wooden acting a few times. This isn't Chaplin's best film by a long shot, but it does have "surprising charm."

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  2. I watched a clip of Coutness and noticed that some of the jokes came out way to serious and where just really bad. I mean, the jokes about the fatality of the soul would have been better but they were just stiff. I also wasn't a fan of Geraldine in this movie either. So too seemed very stiff.
    What I will say though is that I love Charlie's cameo and I feel like the overall movie won't be so bad. It might now be the best movie to saw that Charlie can do talkies (I prefer "The Great Dictator" or "Monsieur Verdoux" for that) but hey, its a good movie to finish off Charlie's filmography.

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  3. You have to see this film if for no other reason that it was Chaplin's last film and he makes a cameo. It may be the best part of the film, but don't be too hard on Chaplin. He just wanted to work and the role of purely directing was not what he was use to doing.

    Brando called Chaplin sadistic for the way he treated Sydney. Brando was a method actor and always wanted to know what the inner feelings were and background of the character. Chaplin would always say, "I don't give a damn about the feelings, just do the part this way."

    Chaplin's old posse of actors and actresses did what they were told in the glory days of the Tramp, but Brando would have none of it. He would say, "What should I do now?" to Chaplin after taking so much direction.

    Sophia adored Chaplin plain and simple.

    The world had moved on by the time this movie came out and the simpler times had passed Chaplin by. Jessica is so right that this movie would have been a hit when Chaplin originally considered it.

    See it once and enjoy. It is a simple farce comedy with old style lighting and camera work, but it does have some delightful moments.

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