GenreComedy, Drama ScreenplayCharlie Chaplin WriterCharles Chaplin LanguageEnglish
Release dateSeptember 12, 1957 (UK)
8 March 1972 (US) CastCharles Chaplin (King Shahdov), Maxine Audley (Queen Irene), Jerry Desmonde (Prime Minister Voudel), Oliver Johnston (Ambassador Jaume), Dawn Addams (Ann Kay - TV Specialist), Sid James (Johnson - TV Advertiser) Similar moviesInsurgent, The Lion King, The Motorcycle Diaries, Argo, Land and Freedom, The Last Emperor
TaglineThe king of comedians!
A King in New York is a 1957 British comedy film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin in his last leading role, which co-stars, among others, his young son Michael. The film presents a satirical view of the McCarthy communist-hunt era and certain other aspects of United States politics and society. The film, which was produced in Europe after Chaplin's exile from the U.S. in 1952, did not open in the United States until 1973.
"One of the minor annoyances in modern life is a revolution." Due to a revolution in his country Estrovia, King Igor Shahdov (Charlie Chaplin) comes to New York City with almost no money, his securities having been stolen by his own Prime Minister. He tries to contact the Atomic Energy Commission with his ideas for using atomic power to create a utopia.
At a dinner party, some of which is televised live (unbeknown to him), he reveals he has had some experience in the theater. He's approached to do TV commercials but does not like the idea. Later, he does make a few commercials in order to get some money.
Invited to speak at a progressive school, he meets Rupert Macabee (Michael Chaplin), editor of the school paper, a ten-year-old historian who gives him a stern anarchist lecture. Although Rupert himself says he distrusts all forms of government, his parents are communists who are jailed for not giving up names at a Joseph McCarthy-type hearing. Because young Rupert had spent time with him, Shahdov is suspected of being a communist himself, and has to face one of the hearings. He is cleared of all charges, but not before a scene in which Shahdov accidentally directs a strong stream of water from a fire hose at the members of the "House Committee on Un-American Activities" (HUAC), who scatter in panic. He decides to join his estranged queen in Paris for a reconciliation.
In the meantime, the authorities force the child to reveal the names of his parents' friends in exchange for his parents' freedom. Grieving and guilt-ridden, Rupert is presented to King Shahdov as a "patriot". Shahdov reassures him that the anti-communist scare is a lot of nonsense which will be over soon, and invites him to come to Europe with his parents for a visit.
In addition to its condemnation of HUAC's methods, the film takes witty potshots at American commercialism, popular music, celebrity culture, and film. A dinner party scene includes a number of satirical portrayals of actors and public figures of the period, including Sophie Tucker.
Charlie Chaplin as King Shahdov
Maxine Audley as Queen Irene
Jerry Desmonde as Prime Minister Voudel
Oliver Johnston as Ambassador Jaume
Dawn Addams as Ann Kay - TV Specialist
Sid James as Johnson - TV Advertiser (billed as Sidney James)
Joan Ingram as Mona Cromwell - Hostess
Michael Chaplin as Rupert Macabee
John McLaren as Macabee Senior
Phil Brown as Headmaster
Harry Green as Lawyer
Robert Arden as Liftboy
Alan Gifford as School Superintendent
Robert Cawdron as U.S. Marshal
George Woodbridge as Member of Atomic Commission
The film did well in Europe, but its lack of U.S. distribution severely hampered its commercial impact. The film divides opinion over the its merits. The film received a "fresh" rating of 80% on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 10 reviews.
Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance, writing in 2003, believes A King in New York to be an important film within Chaplin's body of work. He concludes his lengthy examination of the film with the statement, "Although A King in New York targets the social and political climate of the 1950s, its satiric commentary is timeless. Despite its flaws, the film remains a fascinating study of life in America through the eyes of its most famous exile".