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The Chaplin Collection: Volume Two

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: A
Video/Audio/Extras: B+/A-/A

Directed by: Charles Chaplin
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Produced by: Charles Chaplin
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Jackie Coogan, Virginia Cherrill, Merna Kennedy
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it

Every film buff out there has a favourite director who has inspired them and made them cheer. Many like Steven Spielberg, Ingmar Bergman and Quentin Tarantino the best. There are also those who enjoy the features of Kevin Smith, Terrance Mallick and David Lynch. I myself have enjoyed the works of these artists thoroughly. However, in my opinion, none of these compare to the wonder of Charles Chaplin, known to many as the Little Tramp. His films have made people laugh, think and understand the world around them. He touched upon subjects like World War I, the machine age, the communist witch hunt and Adolf Hitler and made fun of them in the process. There are also his lighter efforts that are like live-action cartoons that can be enjoyed by anybody of any age. The magic of his features are a must for any person (and I'm not just talking about film buffs). The greatest geniuses in the world have been Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Charles Chaplin. Watch his films and you will understand what I'm talking about.

Warner Brothers has done a magnificent job with this box set, featuring six of the master's features, some of his shorts as well as a documentary on his life and they are all worth a look. I will look at each individually, much like I would a regular one-film review and explain not only the quality of the feature, but the transfer and extras as well. The Circus is the first film in the set and it stands as one of Chaplin's most underrated films. Although, Chaplin really liked the film in general, he hated the making of it and so it's not mentioned in his autobiography. Despite all of the bad circumstances during filming, it still ended being another classic Chaplin production. The Little Tramp (Charles Chaplin) arrives for an afternoon at a circus that has arrived in town. Unfortunately, it is struggling to make people laugh. When the Tramp stumbles onto a show causing the audience to howl with laughter and he is hired on the spot. There's a catch, though: He is only able to performs successful gags accidently. Chaplin is terrific as usual and he deservedly won an Oscar for his efforts in The Circus. The comedy highlights include the Tramp's attempt to walk a tightrope to impress a young acrobat girl (Merna Kennedy) and him learning how to do a William Tell stunt. The Circus doesn't get that much attention, but it certainly should.

As always the first feature is David Robinson's Introduction. He explains all the terrible things that happened during the making of The Circus, which Chaplin doesn't even mention in his autobiography. I like his pieces and this is one of the best. We follow this with the "Chaplin Today" documentary which although isn't the best of the "Chaplin Today" pieces, it's still quite good. Filmmaker Emir Kusturica gives some nice points on the film, but we hardly even understand what he's saying.

Next we have the deleted sequence explained in the introduction, which is rather entertaining. It involves the Tramp and Merna having a "date", when who but Rex the handsome tight rope walker shows up. We get a very funny moment when the Tramp attempts to pick a woman's fish up. Later the Tramp is soon being pelted by little balls by a famed prize fighter. This is a very funny scene which caps off very well, and I don't know why Chaplin didn't end up putting it into the final product. We also get some outtakes of the above mentioned scene which shows Chaplin's perfectionist ways. It's very interesting to see that a scene that didn't end up in the picture took six days to film. We follow that with a trio of home movies which are great historical snippets that should been shown in film classes. They pretty much show Chaplin having a lot of fun on and off the set, and although not that exciting they're, like I mentioned before, great historical snippets.

We get a number of achival footage in the "Documents" area. We see the Hollywood premiere, which only gets interesting near the end when the stars arrive. The first part whos some circus acts which aren't at all that exciting. We next see a bit called "Camera A, Camera B" which isn't at all interesting, followed by another boring piece called "3D Test Footage." The latter two contribute nothing at all. This section then ends off with an excerpt of a Jackie Coogan film called Circus Days. It's a nice feature that's rather Chaplinesque, which proves how much Coogan learnt from Chaplin while working on The Kid. I will try to hunt down the full feature. We finally end with some nice trailers, very interesting photographs and a dozen posters. The extras for The Circus get an "A" grade.

Around the time of the release of The Circus, the first picture with sound entitled The Jazz Singer was released and immediately studios were clammering to begin the talkie revolution. While many silent comedians moved on, Chaplin continued to make silent films for a while starting with 1931's City Lights which stands as his most emotional work. City Lights revolves around two adventures involving the Little Tramp (Charles Chaplin). One goes for the chuckles, while the other warms your heart. The Tramp is going on his usual stroll and spots a beautiful flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), however she is blind. This doesn't turn him off as he continues to be fascinated by her and especially interested when she begins to believe that he is a millionaire. Another subplot involves the Tramp meeting a drunk aristocrat, who fails to recognise whenever he's sober. This produces some wonderful gags.

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried during City Lights, both of emotion and of laughter. It's a heartwarming story and it's easy to see why the American Film Institute chose this film to represent the Tramp when they put on their list of greatest screen heroes. Chaplin is wonderful and has great chemistry with Cherrill, even though the two didn't exactly have the best off-screen relationship. The scenes with the millionaire provide the humour very well with both actors playing off each incredibly. However, what really sells the film is the ending, which in my opinion is the best finale in all of cinema history. It seriously is a knockout.

Moving on to the special features for City Lights, we start off with David Robinson's usual introduction which is always a great way to start looking at the special features. He explains Chaplin's orginal story idea, the hatred towards his female co-star and how he coped with the newly added popularity of sound pictures. Very interesting are the Chaplin quotes which he reads. We continue onto the "Chaplin Today" documentary for City Lights which is the best one I've seen so far. We get what was already explained in the introduction and more. Since I am a fan of Wallace and Gromit and the many other Aardman shorts, I really enjoyed the interview with Peter Lord. He gives many great reasons for how Chaplin contributed so much to his animation style and it's great especially for someone like me, who enjoys clamation very much. We then move to an deleted scene which features the Tramp attempting to get a piece of wood out of a gutter. It's a enjoyable piece of comedy which although very funny, I'm happy it was deleted from the final product, because it doesn't contribute anything to the film.

We move to the "Documents" domain of the disc which starts off with a very interesting snippet called "Shooting." It shows Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill shooting the scene the Tramp and the flower girl first meet. It's a brilliant piece of history and don't let the absence of sound stop you from enjoying it. The Georgia Hale screentest isn't as interesting. Chaplin wanted to replace Cherrill with his co-star from The Gold Rush, but her screen test is awfully boring. We just get her smiling and holding a flower for six and a half minutes. You wonder that maybe this was why Chaplin didn't hire her. We then get two very interesting pieces which show the flower girl's imagining of her "millionaire" friend, and Chaplin practicing the elevator sequence from the film. We then two clips showing Chaplin having a pretend boxing fight. The first clip isn't that interesting, but the second one is really entertaining. Winston Churchill visits the set in the next clip which is nice just to see the great leader with the great movie star. The next segment is a rip-off though, called "Chaplin Speaks!", Chaplin says one word in the whole three and a half minute newsreel. "Trip to Bali" is also nothing worthy as Chaplin also appears for a few seconds.

We then get an entertaining clip from Chaplin's 1915 short, The Champion which is another film featuring a funny Chaplin boxing match. It's great, but we should have gotten the whole thing. We then get some amazing trailers, but also the weakest of the photos and posters in the Chaplin Collection. While not the best batch of extras, they're still good and get rewarded a "B" grade.

Despite Chaplin being one of the richest, most famous and most likely men in the world, he had some rough patches in his adult life as well. One of the earliest involved the death of his first child, who died three days after he was born. His first child died three days after he was bored and that hurt Chaplin very much. That terrible incident would later become the inspiration to make one of his most touching films, The Kid which would go on to become one of his biggest hits and make Jackie Coogan one of the first Hollywood child stars.

After a poor mother (Edna Purviance) gives birth to an un-wanted baby (Baby Hathaway), she puts him in a car. Soon, the car is stolen by two criminals who later see the baby and leave him on ground. The Tramp (Charles Chaplin) later appears and finds the baby. At first, he wants to get rid of him, but then changes his mind and decides to raise him as his own. Five Years later, the boy's mother has now become a successful opera singer, but still can't keep her lost child out of her mind. Meanwhile, the Kid (Jackie Coogan) has now become a partner-in-crime with the Tramp. However, when the boy then becomes sick, the authorities take him away. This later leads to a very sad and beautiful ending which we all know Chaplin was famous for.

Charlie Chaplin's most personal feature, The Kid is a wonderfully directed comedy that is a must-see for anyone of any age who wants to check out Chaplin for the first time. Charlie may have gotten top billing, but it's Jackie Coogan's brilliant work as the Kid that should be watched. Coogan gives the best performance ever by an child actor that I have seen. The gags are wonderfully constructed, especially in scenes with the Tramp and the Kid together. Chaplin and Coogan are wonderful on screen and the special features on the DVD show that they are a great relationship off-screen as well.

Like all the other Chaplin DVDs, the special features start with David Robinson's introduction. Always entertaining, this one doesn't disappoint either. It gives a lot of information on Jackie Coogan and his relationship with Chaplin and the infamous Mildred Harris divorce. Like always, a good featurette. The "Chaplin Today" documentary is next. We start off with what we heard in the introduction along with some information on Chaplin bringing his mother to the United States and him signing up with First National. The rest of the show brings us to Iran where we talk to a filmmaker and his family. We don't understand what the filmmaker is talking about, but his grandson gives some interesting comments, while also imitating Coogan. It's a nice documentary that's also cute.

We then move on to a trio of deleted scenes concentrating on the mother. The first two are rather interesting, but the third one doesn't really work. Overall, I'm glad they were deleted, since the mother isn't a very interesting character. "How to Make Movies" is the next piece we encounter. It's a very well-done film that shows Chaplin going around his daily work and also playing a few rounds of golf. It's fun and a great history lesson. We follow that with a 1921 Jackie Coogan film called My Boy. In it, Coogan once again plays an orphan who is taken in by an unlikely guardian and soon found by a rich relative. Unlike The Kid, this is a terrible film. It doesn't contribute anything to the DVD and is a waste of disc space.

We then go to the "Documents" section of the disc. The first one shows Chaplin having a backer's party and having Jackie Coogan dance for the guests. It's a fairly entertaining piece that's a nice addition. Next is a fun home movie called Nice and Friendly featuring Chaplin, Coogan, Lord Mountbatten and their friends. It's a very funny show that would have been a nice short released theatrically. We follow that with a very interesting news reel with Chaplin going back to Europe for the first time and a not so interesting piece with Jackie Coogan visiting Paris. The "Documents" domain caps off with a wonderful clip showing Chaplin conducting for the 1972 re-issue of The Kid.

Finally we have the usual finishing extras. We get three trailers and while the first two are great, the third one doesn't even show the film. Strange. Finally, we have some great photos and posters. It's too bad that Warner had to use perfectly good disk space on placing a terrible film like My Boy as a special feature. Despite that awful addition, the extras receive an "A-" grade.

Continue reading the review in Part II.

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