By John Wranovics
Palgrave Macmillan (2005), $24.95
You can visualize the imagery, as arresting as it is iconic: Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, the apparent sole survivor of a nuclear attack on New York City. As conceived by the celebrated writer James Agee, the film might have been among the most enduring in cinema history, but it didn't even make it into production. Hollywood lore has more than its share of too-bad-they-never-made-it movie stories, most less relevant and more tediously self-absorbed than their tellers can admit. But Pleasanton writer John Wranovics' Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of the Tramp, the Writer, and the Lost Screenplay is something else. It explores the friendship between two of the most culturally influential people in midcentury America, and makes a charming and significant contribution to our awareness of how movies and progressive thought have together come of age — or haven't, if you take the cynical view. Wranovics, not a cynic, presents fond portraits of the fitfully maturing Chaplin, who accused the atom bomb of “creating so much horror and fear that we are going to grow up a bunch of neurotics”; and of the ever-tousled Agee, rather a bohemian tramp himself, who admired the filmmaker to the point of idolatry and defended him against the maiming aggression of McCarthyism. Chaplin and Agee also includes Agee's script for The Tramp's New World, which by most reasonable estimations is unfilmable. A poignant irony, that for its highly verbal, heart-on-sleeve fervor, Agee's project puts Chaplin's succinctly cinematic humanism into sharp relief by being so prolix and fundamentally unsuitable.