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Chaplin’s Goliath – Eric Campbell documentary

Chaplin’s Goliath: In Search of Scotland’s Forgotten Star (1996)

Editorial Review of Chaplin’s Goliath¬†courtesy of Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com¬†Eric Campbell looms large in the history of silent comedy on the basis of a mere 11 films. Between 1916 and 1917 he appeared as Charlie Chaplin’s hulking nemesis in 11 of his 12 comedy classics for Mutual, a literal Goliath to Chaplin’s David. With heavy, frowning eyebrows and a slow-burn stare, this huge yet agile Scottish actor became one of the most recognizable faces on the screen and even inspired copycats (one delightful piece of archival footage shows a young Oliver Hardy in a thick black beard blatantly imitating Campbell). In December 1917, on the verge of a brilliant career, Eric Campbell died in a car accident.

Chaplin's Goliath: In Search of Scotland's Forgotten Star (1996)Writer-director Kevin Macdonald uses archival footage and photos to illuminate his rich career on the British stage and music hall circuit, and interviews paint a portrait of a gentle family man. Macdonald pads out the film with a Scottish-pride slant on Campbell’s success (the film’s subtitle is “In Search of Scotland’s Forgotten Star”) and the reminiscences of Campbell’s granddaughter, pleasant but unnecessary diversions.

The film is at its best when examining his gifts as a screen comic, seen in clips and notably in rare outtakes from his work with Chaplin. His improvisational talents show that “Big Uncle Eric”–as he was known to kids around the world–was no mere foil for Chaplin. Eric Campbell was a creative artist and a comic partner, a vital part of Chaplin’s most productive period. —Sean Axmaker

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