Being lukewarm towards Charlie Chaplin is possible; I wouldn't contest his apparent acting and directing genius (how else would he have his audiences on hello), but his kind of thing, the combination of slapstick and pathos is definitely not for me. I'd rather have the two separated; I tend to despise comedies without a happy ending, cause they take me by surprise -there's a definite need for preparation to take pain in.
My sympathy for Chaplin, the man, grew like a wild flower after reading his tormented childhood. "Why had she done this? Mother, so light-hearted and gay, how could she go insane?", he is writing in his autobiography for his feelings, as a child, towards his mum's unstable nature. Climbing up the ladder didn't come easy. Chaplin had to fight his appearance -they said he looked too young and too shy- and contest with bigger stars, trying to shine above them in order to secure his place in the English show-biz.
Chaplin or Charlot in many a countries was lucky enough to be selected in the Karno troup that was going to tour America; that's how he got into movies. Scouting always works in favour of audiences, and the latter found in Chaplin's face their new idol: Chaplin was probably the first actor to have his own merchandise sold all around; he was an incontestable worldwide cultural phenomenon (which I'm unable to grasp) and this mania was even given a name by an entertainment journalist: "Chaplinitis" took over America on 1915, he writes.
Paradoxically, The Circus (1928), which I watched recently courtesy of 3rd Athens Open Air Film Festival in the cosy rooftop of the Cinematheque of Greece or, as they like to call it, the Greek Film Archive, was the film that reminded him of unending stress and frustration in his personal life. The flamboyant title, colorfoul posters and his success as the circus sensation hide a grim period of nervous break down, due to divorce complications. The film took more than a year to finish and it graced Chaplin with his first Academy Award, not the one in the Category of Best Actor where he was originally nominated, but a Special Award for his "versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus".
To ease your curiosity, The Circus does not have a happy ending. His trademark character, the Tramp, "an iconic figure of the silent-film era" does not take the girl and run. Never mind the poster. The final shot finds him all alone, rather deserted and free as a bird. Which makes me think freedom is like a curse, if you see it this way. He doesn't, I guess.
* Chaplin also stayed in Cinema History as the co-founder of the first independent, in a way, studio, owned by actors, rather than bureaucrats of entertainment- United Artists Corporation.