Chaplin His Life and Art by David Robinson (Collins, £15.00); Astaire the Man, the Dancer by Bob Thomas (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, £9.95); Film-Making in 1930s Britain by Rachel Low, (George Allen & Unwin, £12.95; French Cinema by Roy Arinei (Seeker & Warburg, £12.95); The Epic Film by Derck Elley (Routledge, Keegan & Paul, £8.95).
DAVID Robinson's brilliantly condensed paperback Chaplin in the Mirror of Opinion appeared to answer every quesiton anybody might want to ask about Chaplin.
Only two years later Robinson comes up with this monumental 800-page (including invaluable appendices) study of Chaplin His Life and Art.
Justification of this quick succession is the permission given to Robinson by Lady Chaplin for access to all the Chaplin archives. The result is the most comprehensive, most richly researched study of the comedian Robinson dares to call London's favourite son, who .may indeed be acknowledged to have become the single greatest genius created by and for the first century of cinema.
Robinson has been able to recreate the whole story from the almost Dickensian orphanage of childhood in Lambeth, through the first ventures with the eight Lancashire Lads, Casey's Court Circus — including the disaster at Bethnal Green when Charlie fled the catcalls and pelting orange peel vowing never again to appear before a live audience, and on to Fred Karno's music halls and the first Hollywood years with Mack Sennett and the Keystone Cops.
The influence of Charlie's mother, Hannah, sitting at her window observing and mimicking the passersby was probably his first inspiration, and a method he would teach his sons.
First came the years of his undoubted. sway as the "Funniest Man" in the World when his early Keystone comics would be specially shown on the hospital ceilings for the relief of desperately wounded casualties of World War One.
Robinson plots his early relations with colleagues, the friendship with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford before they founded United Artists, or his professional and personal partnership with Edna Purviance, which Robinson calls the happiest relationship of his youth.
In seven years Chaplin had made 71 films. Robinson traces the development of his notorious perfectionism, the slow thoroughness which could shoot one scene five hundred times, until he could declare to the American press through his half-brother Sidney: "There is one thing that will be stipulated in all Charlie Chaplin contracts hereafter, and that is that Charlie he allowed ail the time he needs and all the money for producing them the way he wants."
Robinson explores and analyses every individual movie, then devotes a chapter to each of the major works from the Gold Rush. The Circus and City Lights, to Modern Times. "the Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux and on to Limelight and even A Countess from Hongkong.
Chaplin's special gift for directing actors probably derived from his belief in their crucial importance. Eugene l.ourie, whom Chaplin called in as designer on Limelight is quoted as recalling that Robert Aldrich, associate director, "always wanted more artistic shots.
Chaplin did not think in artistic images when he was shooting. He believed that action is the main thing, The camera is there to photograph the actors".
And then in 1942 a whole new life opened up for Chaplin at the age of 53 (with half a dozen masterpieces behind him and several failed marriages) from his meeting with Oona, the notquite 17-year-old daughter of Eugene O'Neil, their marriage and foundation of a family.
There is ample evidence of what Robinson calls "the extraordinary perfect love affair" that resulted and which brought Chaplin happiness that compensated for all that had happened and would happen to him. I like Lady Chaplin's defence against accusations of a "father fixation": "He has matured me, I keep him young".
Robinson's litertarian attitude probably reinforces his sympathy for Chaplin and his blame of McCarthy and the FBI. Remembering and rereading the details it always seems to me Chaplin was as best tactless in beating drums for a Second Front at quite a wrong moment . .
But, "as for politics", Charlie always said: "I'm an anarchist".
Reading Astaire immediately after Chaplin I found myself surprisingly struck more by the affinities than by the obvious contrasts between two so different stars.
Both began as child performers in music hall, Astaire of course beginning with his sister Adele, Chaplin trained and initiated by his parents, Astaire in American encouraged by his in Austria.
Above all both developed the passionate professional perfectionism which made them ruthless to fellow-players. Both rose to "high society" on either side of the Atlantic.
Film-making in 1930s Britain is the latest volume of RAchel Low's finely written history of British cinema.
The 30s are not the most cheerful period to recall even from this British Film Year. But the information is invaluable and Mrs Low refreshingly blames the misguided quota system rather than Korda's extravagance.
French cinema is also no longer what it once was, and Roy Armes is acutely conscious of the constriction of trying to pack the whole nation's film history into one volume. But all the important names are there, and Armes' book is welcome as a reminder of many past joys.
Addicts of the spectacular extravanganzas classified as "epic cinema" should be stimulated, informed and entertained by Derek Elley's comprehensive survey of the genre.
Freda Bruce Lockhart