Charlie Chaplin vs. Buster Keaton: Who cares??


The following is my first of two entries in The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon: The Life and Films of the Little Tramp, being co-hosted by the blogs Little Bits of Classics and Christina Wehner from Apr. 14-16, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to Charles Chaplin on his 126th birthday (Apr. 16)!

(All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S. Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export.)


I first came across Charlie Chaplin when I was 11 years old and just “getting into” silent movies. I didn’t start watching Buster Keaton movies until a few years later, mainly because I never had access to any of them until a local PBS station began showing them. I find both men, in their individual ways, brilliant silent-film comedians.

Ever since I was a kid, I have been listening to the ridiculous debate about Chaplin versus Keaton — which comic is funnier, less sentimental, more artistic, etc. — as though great movie comics are so plentiful that we must compare apples to oranges. For the final word on this subject, I have two quotes. The first quote is from The Silent Clowns, Walter Kerr’s invaluable study of silent-film comedy; the second is a seemingly irrelevant quote about a completely different subject by Susan Sontag. (However, in Sontag’s case, replace “The Doors and Dostoyevsky” with “Keaton and Chaplin,” and you’ll see what I mean.)


* “…[Keaton] has been hailed, here and there, not only as Chaplin’s equal but as Chaplin’s superior. This, I think, is waste effort, a misreading of Keaton’s very values…Let Chaplin be king, and Keaton court jester. The king effectively rules, the jester tells the truth.” – Walter Kerr, 1975


* “If I had to choose between the Doors and Dostoyevsky, then — of course — I’d choose Dostoyevsky. But do I have to choose?” – Susan Sontag, 1996

(If you liked this blog, please click here to read my second blogathon entry, about Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.)


8 responses to “Charlie Chaplin vs. Buster Keaton: Who cares??

  1. In his book THE COMIC MIND, Gerald Mast writes, “Chaplin’s career is astonishing in that he could make so many films of such thematic content and high quality over such a long period of time. Keaton’s career is astonishing in that he could make so many films of such consistency and energy in such a short time. The two artists, the two screen characters, and the two film careers reveal opposite achievements of the very best that is possible in motion pictures.”


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great point; well said! What an impoverished world it would be if we could only have one. I admit that I went through a brief phrase where I was comparing the two. I had grown up with Chaplin, but discovered Keaton later in life and was rather rebelliously trying to prove to myself why Keaton was better. But after revisiting Chaplin, I realized anew how brilliant he was. And as you say, in a world with so few great movie comics, why can’t we celebrate their greatness without arguing?

    I’ve never read Kerr’s book, either. Will definitely have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up with both simultaneously and always regarded them as two sides of the same coin, the Adams and Jefferson of silent comedy. Leonard Maltin made a very succinct remark in comparing the two, Keaton is “cool” while Chaplin is “warm”. ‘Nuff said.

    Liked by 1 person

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