A King in New York (1957)
A King in New York (1957)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: September 12th, 1957 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Charles Chaplin Actors: Charles Chaplin, Maxine Audley, Jerry Desmonde, Oliver Johnston, Dawn Addams, Joan Ingram, Sidney James

 


 

“O

ne of the minor annoyances of modern life is a revolution,” begins “A King in New York,” which proceeds to satirize the contemporarily declining American political climate, filled with pervasive communist threats and McCarthyism. Autobiographical in nature, it reflects Chaplin’s own exile during the release of “Limelight” five years prior, and the accusations against his governmental affiliations. Unfortunately, these subjects don’t help the humorousness at all – in fact, they detract from it. “A King in New York,” written, directed, produced, musically composed, and starring Chaplin, would be his first European project and the second-to-last of his completed films.

The majestic European palace of King Shahdov (Charlie Chaplin) has been stormed; but the detested governmental monarch, who ran into troubles with his peaceful nuclear policies that conflicted with other politicians’ desires to build atomic bombs, has fled to America. He’s hightailed it to New York with the funds of the treasury, where he’s graciously welcomed and met by his Prime Minister Voudel (Jerry Desmonde). While there, he’s also waited upon by his faithful Ambassador Jaume (Oliver Johnston, in a role that begs to be a slapstick counterpart, but rarely has the opportunity).

Shahdov is initially enthusiastic, until he finds out that Voudel has cleaned out his monetary securities, for which the king is blamed. His wife Queen Irene (Maxine Audley) visits him from Paris, conversing about their arranged marriage, her general unhappiness in the role, and her ultimate goal of divorce. Still hoping to design atomic plans for a future utopia, Shahdov determines to make some money in television, after dining with advertising specialist Ann Kay (Dawn Addams), who tricks him into participating in a dinner party televised live for station KXPA (entitled “Ann Kay’s Real Life Surprise Party”). At first, he’s disgusted by the chicanery, but as his bank account dwindles and the Atomic Commission stalls a meeting, he resorts to putting aside his honor to accept small roles in public praising for various products.

There’s still a quirky liveliness in Chaplin’s step and in his signature, twirling dance moves, along with plenty of setups for comedy – but the end result is limited in creativity. Spying on a female bather, surveying a progressive school of odd children, and reciting Hamlet’s famous monologue all begin with promise, but their intrigue dwindles quickly and culminate in tepid or nonexistent punchlines. The familiar slapstick is particularly bland, featuring the occasional roll on the ground, or concepts like jumping into a bathtub while fully clothed, sitting on a cake, choking on Royal Crown Whiskey, getting ensnarled in a fire hose, or participating in a stage performance that recalls a skit from “The Circus” – none of which are laugh-out-loud funny.

The film also targets current American culture for subtler laughs, including the ludicrous cinema of “Man or Woman?” and a senselessly noisy Western; the Cuba Club restaurant with its equally deafening live music; and obnoxious advertising commercials (themselves mocked for the beatification of stars, aided by excessive plastic surgery). But the pacing is plodding and clumsy, with Dawn Addams nearly devoid of charisma, while the age difference between Addams (then 27) and Chaplin (then 68) becomes a bit too much for the sake of romantic interests (though not unexpected, considering the subject matter of his previous film “Limelight” and Chaplin’s own real-life entanglements). At the same time, Chaplin’s son Michael – in the role of a highly intellectual junior communist – is more annoying than amusing, and even the climax of literally hosing down the House Un-American Activities Committee lacks a zest that should have been inherent in the notion. It’s quite evident that, with this late entry into Chaplin’s filmography, the master’s personal life has reflected poorly on his artistry.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10