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The bizarre feud between Marlon Brando and Charlie Chaplin

Marlon Brand and Charlie Chaplin are two of the greatest icons of 20th-century cinema, known and revered for their unforgettable contributions to film history. On one occasion, they even collaborated but it led to Brando coming away with the opinion that Chaplin was incessantly cruel, a situation that tarnished the relationship between the two pioneers.

When Chaplin set out to make his final directorial feature called A Countess from Hong Kong, he actually wanted Cary Grant or Rex Harrison in the lead but those plans did not come to fruition. The film was based on an idea that Chaplin had when he visited Shanghai in 1931 and encountered aristocrats who had escaped during the Russian Revolution and led lives of destitution which became even worse after their kids migrated to Hong Kong.

Brando was a huge fan of Chaplin and had agreed to star in the film before even reading the script, just like Sophia Loren who starred alongside him. He thought of Chaplin as a “comic genius” but could not process the reality of his behaviour on set which ended up altering his opinions on the iconic filmmaker forever and even prompted him to stand up to Chaplin.

In his own memoir, Brando wrote that Chaplin was “the most sadistic man [he’d] ever met” and called him “an egotistical tyrant and a penny-pincher.” He was taken aback by Chaplin’s response whenever someone arrived a little late on set or did not work in accordance with the pace he wanted, noting that Chaplin would often lash out in “fearsomely cruel” ways.

“Comic genius or not, when I went to London to work with him late in his life, Chaplin was a fearsomely cruel man,” Brando wrote in his memoir. detailing further and in no uncertain terms, Brando added: “Chaplin was probably the most sadistic man [he’d] ever met.”

A Countess from Hong Kong also featured Chaplin’s son, Sydney, as an actor, and Brando was very disturbed by Chaplin’s treatment of his own child. “Chaplin spoke to his son this way again and again and reshot his scenes over and over for no reason, berating him and never speaking to him with anything except sarcasm,” Brando revealed in his book.

These were not isolated incidents as Sydney confirmed to Brando that Chaplin mistreated all of his children in the exact same way. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the time when Brando was just 15 minutes late to the set and Chaplin publicly humiliated him, claiming that he was not a professional and that he was “disgrace to [his] profession”.

Brando did not take this silently like his son Sydney had and cut Chaplin off to announce that he would wait in his room for only 20 minutes. If Chaplin did not knock on his door within that time, he would immediately leave for America. These threats were enough to change Chaplin’s mind and he apologised which led Brando to the conclusion that “the greatest genius that the medium has ever produced… [was] a mixed bag, just like all of us”.

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