Charlie Chaplin v. Buster Keaton

My boss and I have an ongoing argument. He loves Buster Keaton. I love Charlie Chaplin.

Buster’s great too. In fact, I just finished reading a biography on him, something I’ve never done with Chaplin. I own several of his movies. “The General” was impressive. But I just like Chaplin better. He seemed more consistently funny than Keaton. Some of Keaton’s movies could be pretty boring at times.

Of course, there were other brilliant silent film comedians. I was just curious about preferences between these two. I thought it would be akin to deciding whether you were an Elvis person or a Beatles person. (I’m an Elvis guy, by the way.)

Anyway, how about all y’all?

Of course there’s little point in arguing who’s better, since they’re both so wonderful, but as for a personal preference . . .

Both of them were brilliant physical comedians and probably pretty close to even as far as how effective (in funniness) their physical acts were. But they were far from even in the physical feats they were capable of delivering. Keaton was a magical acrobat/contortionist/stuntman and could do things with his body that Chaplin could never do. (But, of course, if you can tell the story and get just as many laughs without putting your body in way of severe harm there’s no fault.)

Both of them made a point of making films that were more than just pure bunk. They each had plenty of social commentary amidst the comedy.

Chaplin, however (IMO), had a way of communicating on a deeply emotional level that I don’t think Keaton ever matched. They both make me laugh, but Keaton has never made me cry. Consider the scene in The Kid when Jackie Coogan is taken away from the Tramp. The Tramp breaks free from the police, takes chase across the neighborhood rooftops, jumps onto the truck, knocks down the guard, and, in tears, embraces the kid. That embrace effects such a crescendo and is so moving and powerful, and never fails to make me squirt a few tears. I’ve never seen anything like this in Buster Keaton’s entire body of work.

Keaton also never did anything on such a grand scale as Modern Times or The Great Dictator.

Of course, any first year film student knows that Modern Times was in many aspects a blatant plagiarism. And it’s also worth noting that Chaplin left much of Keaton’s work from Limelight on the cutting room floor because it was clear to Chaplin that Keaton was much funnier.

Over all, however, much as I absolutely love Keaton- I prefer Chaplin, mostly because of Point#2.

Hey! Chaplin never tossed an entire steam locomotive into an Oregon ravine, like Keaton did in The General.

Otherwise, I agree with you completely…why not enjoy both, depending on the present mood?

“My taste includes both snails and oysters.” – Marcus Licinius Crassus, Spartacus

Chaplin is a bit too sentimental for me. I’ve always preferred Keaton.

Actually I have never thought of comparing them.

Now that you mention it I think I prefer Keaton.

Now I’ll have to spend a month figuring out why.

Damn You!


Dal Timgar

Cholly Chepman has alwasy rolled off my knife . . . His early stuff was “hit the cop with a brick and run off with Mabel Normand.” His later stuff was “sad little clown sniffing a rose while a tear rolls down his cheek.” Feh. I think the main reason he is still so popular is because his films have been continuously available from Day One.

I far prefer Keaton and–to a lesser extent–Harold Loyd. The real comic genius in my book, though, is Max Linder, who did it all funnier and ten years before any of those other guys. Plus, he was cute as all get-out!

Of the “Big 4” of American (well, based in America) comedians of the silent era:

I’ve never seen Langdon.

Lloyd is alright, but a little repetitive, and (as I mentioned in the “I Love the 1930’s” thread), wasn’t really meant for sound.

Chaplin had (IMHO) one great film, “The Great Dictator”. His silent material (at least in the short subjects) was as repetitive as Lloyd, but not as funny.

Keaton is a genius. Nothing else to say.

Personally I find any one of Keaton’s prat-falls funnier than Chaplin’s whole output, though there are some moments I like. Lots of people don’t like Keaton’s “Stoneface” expression, I find Chaplin’s sentimentality too cloying. Chaplin didn’t, IIRC, use the camera much - just filmed everything straight on.

Chaplin pissed off Hitler, so he gets special marks for that.

Eve: Cholly Chepman??

It’s a Milt Gross-ism . . .

A hijack here, but has anyone seen Harry Langdon films, and, if so, would you recommend them?

From "Blackadder Goes Forth:

GEORGE: But you see, Chaplin is a genius.

EDMUND: He certainly is a genius, George. He invented a way of getting a million dollars a year by wearing stupid trousers.

I’ve had the opportunity to see Langdon’s movies, but never took advantage. From what I understand, he was pretty darn good in Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926) and The Strong Man (1926), but then made a disastrous attempt at Chaplinesque pathos with Three’s a Crowd (1927), ended up merely pathetic, and trashed his career pretty good.

Checking his bio on IMdB, I see he managed to keep busy, though. Churned out several films a year right up to his death in 1944.

I’ve seen a few Harry Langdon films. He’s well . . . Cute. He’s a good performer, but he didn’t really have any creative input into his films, so they don’t really hold together as well as Keaton and Lloyd and Linder and, yes, even Chaplin.

The "big four’ was a creation of James Agee in an article in Life Magazine in the 40s, when memories of the films were weaker (with no TV, most people hadn’t seen any of them in years) and only Chaplin was working (and then sporadically). Some have said Agee missed other, better commedians of the time.

I’ve seen all four. Langdon is generally the weakest – a one-note character (Agree pretty much admitted as such), who was much more dependant on his writers and directors than the others (Frank Capra directed his best films, BTW, so he may be more a Capra creation than a character in his own right). Once he started directing himself, his career fell apart, and indication he shouldn’t be listed as highly as the other three.

Lloyd was a great gagman and superb athlete, but his persona is very much of the 20s, and dates badly. In addition, he didn’t really try to be more than a gagman, which puts him behind Keaton and Chaplin.

Keaton’s by far the most modern of the four; indeed, he had a critical rebirth in the 60s-70s (See his appearance in “Sunset Boulevard”: intended to show a bunch of wash-up has-beens). His gags were more modern, more elaborate, than anyone else. But he was also a master of the small gag (the funniest thing about the train falling into the river in “The General” is the shot immediately afterward). His sentimentality is less obvious than Chaplin’s.

However, Chaplin gets my nod if I’d have to choose the best. Chaplin’s persona is timeless, his gags – big and small – brilliantly imaginative. But Chaplin did introduce depth and pathos into his comedy, making it all the richer. The final shot of “City Lights” is incredible – joy, sadness, and ambivalence all mixed into a heartbreaking moment. Chapin went for much more than comedy, and that gives him an edge to Keaton. He wasn’t just hilarious – he was so much more than comedy.

Well put. I was beginning to think that I was backing the wrong horse.

Granted, it’s all a matter of taste. Both have their strong points. But I just like Chaplin a tad more. I guess I’m a cornball at heart. Keaton did have better looking women in his movies, though.

And has anyone ever seen the Arbuckle/Keaton movies? Buster actually smiled a few times. It was grotesque.

I adore Keaton- one of my trasured possessions is his boxed set. Chaplin never did a thing for me, though- the dinner roll dance is about the extent of my love for him.

Speaking of silent era comedians, anyone here know much about Charley Bowers? Several years ago I lucked in to catching a short by him on AMC (Whoozit was the title, I believe). It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it (I’ve still got it on tape around here somewhere, though), but I remember it had some really cool animation in it. I’ve never heard anything about him, though; just that time filling segment I happened to catch on AMC. I’ve been curious to learn more about him.

I used to think Chaplin was the super shit, but that was because somehow, I never managed to see anything of Keaton’s. But after The General, I was pretty much decided that Keaton was better. Not by much, but there was that ol’ stoneface of his that was just classic.

Ms. Eve, we turn to you again for a bit of insight on the early times. I read a bio of Keaton once in which he was quoted as saying his stone face was a gift from his vaudeville dad, who realized that broadly-smiling little kid performers were all over the stage and told Buster to pull a mask because audiences found it so funny. (They were probably relieved at not being blinded by the gleam of teeth in an artificial grin for three whole minutes.) Is that still the story?

I’ve seen a lot of Keaton, and I have to say that, for me, watching him react stoically to a situation that becomes more and more absurd is one of the chief delights of his movies. There was one shot in “The General” in which he dropped the mask just for a second–it’s when his girlfriend, loaded into a mail sack for purposes of concealment, is being roughly tossed aboard the train–and that one shot always makes me hysterical.

Also, I’ve heard about the skills of Mr. Linder and Mr. Bowers, but haven’t yet had the pleasure. Is their material available anywhere yet?

(Nice job on the Grossism, by the way… “A is for Hape, Vot lives in the trizz, Venn he vants a gless melk, He’ll a cucunut sqvizz!” [That’s hardly a direct quote, but…] You can’t get away with that stuff any more. I understand how dangerous it could be then, but it always seemed to me that Milt was so gently good-natured about it.)