I wish I had done a little research on this book before reading it. As it turned out when I was near the end of the book it struck me that I wish I hadn't bought or read it. Undoubtedly the author is a talented writer and an impressive researcher, but the book's almost nonexistant focus on Chaplin as a filmmaker should be a caution to any reader.
Before getting to the bulk of the book I will point out the one positive aspect of the book. Chaplin's childhood left me in awe. To say that it was tough doesn't even come close, and I couldn't help thinking how lucky he was to rise from nothing to the succesful filmmaker that he became. Then there is the rest of the story.
In the +500 pages of 'Tramp,' Joyce Milton concentrates on two aspects of Chaplin's life. First, the author details the many sad and destructive relationships Chaplin had with his wives, mistresses, and countless others in Hollywood. Almost no one comes out looking good in any of these relationships - not Chaplin or most of the women. For about thirty years, until his marriage to Oona O'Neill, it is one tarnished and ruined experience after another. Paulette Goddard is one of the few who comes out in any positive light. And of Oona O'Neill, the one woman that Chaplin seemed to be able to have anything resembling a successful relationship, we end up learning the very least.
Second, the author dedicates an excessive amount of space on Chaplin's Marxists views. The point is clear - it is the highest irony that a multimillionaire actor had such strong opposition to free enterprise. A lot can be said of that, and Milton takes every opportunity to do so. The endless cast of insigificant Communist sympathizers goes on and on. What a boring lot they were! Eventually I read over these parts with no care to retain any of the information. In the end it was just plain tiresome.
It was largely surprising how little space Milton spent on Chaplin as a filmmaker. Many of the chapter titles are Chaplin's own movie titles. Yet, for example, in the nearly 30-page chapter 'City Lignts,' if you were to string together the few paragraphs that actually deal with the movie 'City Lights' you'd be lucky to put together 2 or 3 pages. At the end of the book, Milton makes the point that if you want to know Chaplin as a filmmaker, watch his videos, they are readily available. I second that - rent or buy his videos, skip this book.