Yes, it's flawed--the sets look shabby, and some of the dialogue is stilted and melodramatic. Yet despite these shortcomings, AKINY still stands out as a wonderful, playful satire of 1950's America.
For those of you who may not know, Chaplin himself was targetted by the U.S. government at the time for his alleged communist leanings. In fact, AKINY had to be shot in Britain (Chaplin's birthplace) only because Chaplin and his family had been forbidden to re-enter the U.S after a short vacation overseas.
AKINY was Chaplin's response to the nonsense and paranoia that pervaded American society at that time. Chaplin also pokes fun at America's obsession with technology and the media--a point which is even more relevant today.
Chaplin plays King Shahdov, a deposed monarch who flees to America in the hopes of selling his plans for a peaceful, nuclear-based society (which never happens). Chaplin plays Shahdov as an honest, but hapless European monarch thrust into the dizzying whirl of modern America. Chaplin is at his absolute best here as a befuddled and somewhat puzzled outsider.
Shahdov soon meets up with two people. The first is Ann Kay (Dawn Addams), a beautiful young woman who seduces the King and lures him into appearing in her television commercials, and Rupert Macabee (played by Chaplin's son, Michael), a brilliant young boy whose parents have been imprisoned by HUAC. Also worth noting is Ambassador Jaume (Oliver Johnston), Shahdov's loyal friend and confidante. Johnston and Chaplin play off each other beautifully, and together they share some of the film's funniest moments.
AKINY is full of priceless "bits of business," as Chaplin used to say--there's a hilarious restaurant scene in which Chaplin mimes his order to the waiter in order to overcome the dreadful racket from the house band.
Then there's the scene in which Shahdov's newly lifted face become "unhinged" as he bursts into laughter at a comedy show. Chaplin slyly slips in and out of these bits (which are essentially silent comedy pantomimes dating back to his earliest days in English Music Halls) with great ease.
Such scenes provide the most satisfying moments in the film. Here, behind Chaplin's aged face and body, you can still see the little tramp come to life, and it's wonderful.
AKINY is vastly underrated by most critics who, for some reason, obsess over the sets, and virtually ignore what is truly one of Chaplin's masterpieces. AKINY is rarely screened in North America for some reason, so if you get the chance to see it, don't pass it up.