10 December 2013 | SimonJack
Fun family fest for Chaplin's final film
Movie goers, film critics, and people in general have at least one tendency that often clouds our judgment. It's called stereotyping. In this case, it seems to be a consensus of many in all three above groups, that Marlon Brando was miscast as Ogden Mears in "A Countess from Hong Kong." And, apparently to the detriment of the whole film. But, was he? Or have many people viewed this film bitten by that stereotype bug that can infect our brains? Marlon Brando – the serious actor! The master actor of dramatic roles! How could he be any good in comedy? He doesn't even know how to smile or laugh!
Well, after seeing this movie, I have to think that Charlie Chaplin knew full well what he was doing. Even if the critics of the time and many viewers then and now can't see it, or appreciate it. Chaplin, the comedy genius and super-talented actor, writer and composer, did not just put out a flop for his last film. He managed to do another very clever, funny and entertaining piece of the milieu in which he excelled. No, it's not his best, but it fits nicely with all his other films in the "better" category.
"Countess" has a good serving of wit and sight gags – two hallmarks of great Chaplin comedy. Not as many as in "The Great Dictator," "Monsieur Verdoux," or "A King in New York." But his inimitable style for simple, yet sophisticated comedy is stamped all over this film. Others have commented on his musical mastery and a little history behind this film. Since much criticism is aimed at Brando and his part, I'll just dissect that a bit. Brando's role was the perfect straight man for this scenario. Only, he doesn't have one joker, buffoon or eccentric sidekick. Rather, he is the central character that several others play off of in comedic interplay – mostly light, but at times very funny. His serious side is exactly what is needed to make the rest of it work as it does.
Some have noted that Cary Grant or Rock Hudson would have been more natural in this role. Sure, they would have added their amusing, bewildered or befuddled expressions to the dialog for good laughs. And, their characters would have been more in tune with that of the countess. But I don't think that's what Chaplin had in mind. Remember – Ogden Mears was prominent in political circles and feted as ambassadorial material. So, Chaplin wanted a real person, from real life, to put in this role to add a sense of sharper contrast to the humor of the plot. I think Brando was his pick for that reason. And, I think it works well. All we need do to thoroughly enjoy this film, is cast aside any preconceptions we may have about who can play what type of roles. Then, sit back and watch this film as it is. And enjoy the wonderful Chaplin wit.
As for the family fest – his son Sydney did quite well as Harvey, one of those who played nicely off Brando's straight man. And daughter, Geraldine, was among the club dancers early in the film, though without any lines. Charlie's two cameos were nice; the latter very funny where the chief steward himself was fighting seasickness. All in all, those of the Chaplin clan made nice filler for his last film.