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The Chaplin Collection: Volume Two

After The Great Dictator, Chaplin set out to make another dark comedy entitled Monsieur Verdoux. The idea for the film was given by Orson Welles to Chaplin and was inspired by the true story of a real French bluebeard. Chaplin was originally set to only star in the film with Welles writing and directing, but in the end the comedian took over the project (however, Welles still received a credit for coming up with the idea). In the end, he produced a funny and darkly rich comedy that unfortunately failed in its release due to the comedy's dark tone (which would later become popularised by the Coen Brothers).

Henri Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) has lost all his money in the recent stock market crash and wants to go to all measures to get money for his sick wife (Mady Correll). He decides to become a bluebeard by marrying countless widows and murdering them for their money. He is constantly successful at this and never caught. Unfortunately, one incredibly annoying woman (an hilarious Martha Raye) is becoming increasingly difficult to kill with the authorities having traced him made even worse.

Monsieur Verdoux was horribly panned and Chaplin's biggest box office failure on its release. The film was too dark for audiences to handle and the growing controversy over his possible Communist sympathies didn't help either. Nonetheless, it is a wonderfully funny production that still stands as a hallmark of Chaplin's genius. The screenplay (for which he received an Oscar nomination) is intelligent and witty with Chaplin's performance adding more to the delightful mix. Martha Raye is also fantastic playing the impossible to kill window and she makes scenes funnier. What is most interesting about Monsieur Verdoux is how it is still poignant today despite being made about sixty years ago. Not everybody will pleased with it, but I'm sure Chaplin fans will die laughing (bad pun intended).

Moving on to the DVD's extras, we start off with the usual David Robinson introduction which is very exciting. He explains Orson Welles's inspiration of the idea, how he sold it to Chaplin, the communist accusation and the film's controversy all in a brisk 5 minutes. It's very enjoyable. We then go to the "Chaplin Today" documentary of the film. It includes brilliant news reel footage of Chaplin confronting the House of Un-American Activities and a wonderful interview with French thriller director Claude Chabrol. Of all the "Chaplin Today" documentaries, this is the best one of them all. The special features then end off with some very well-done trailers, a so-so photo gallery and a brilliant scene-to-storyboard comparison gallery. Very interesting are the posters that have something not seen in the other DVDs. They are accompanied by radio broadcasts. The Monsieur Verdoux batch of special features is an example of quality over quantity and it completely succeeds. I give it an "A-" grade.

In an interesting case, Warner Brothers has put both of Chaplin's lesser known efforts into one package. A Woman of Paris was his first serious drama, his first film not appearing in a leading role and his first box office failure. However, critics loved it any believed that had he taken his name of the promotional material it would have been a bigger success. Why see a Chaplin film without Chaplin? Even though, it's not one of his best films, it's worth checking out. Edna Purviance plays a poor French girl who goes up in society and is soon reunited with her previous boyfriend (Carl Miller). The film shifts to low and high class and combines the two worlds very well. Edna Purviance certainly has chops at doing a dramatic performance and it certainly is unfortunate that she didn't get better success after the film's release (which was one of the reasons Chaplin made it). Adolphe Menjou, who did become a successful actor after A Woman of Paris is shown to be a young Clark Gable type in his role as one of the upper crust of society. Unfortunately, the film does have its weak and boring bits. Nonetheless, it's a good effort from Chaplin which I do recommend.

More than thirty years after A Woman of Paris, Chaplin made A King in New York. It would be his last starring role and his first film made outside of the United States. It was a troubled production with the silent film director constantly arguing with his cameraman and he was also not free to do as many takes as he liked. In the end, the film still turned out to be a wonderful piece of work. King Shahdov (Charles Chaplin) has run away from the country due to the rising backlash towards him and has moved to the United States to run away from the problems. He doesn't exactly take kindly to America at first, where he finds the rock music too loud and the widescreen cinemas distracting. He also befriends a young boy (Michael Chaplin) who has a fascination with Karl Marx and the concept of Communism.

The film didn't get a very nice reception when it was released, but it has stood the test of time and I certainly consider it to be Chaplin's most underated film. It's both funny and charming and you can easily tell the man's opinion of McCarthy. You just want to stand up and applaud when the King confronts the House of Un-American Activities. It's a splendid film that I find incredibly enjoyable. Now moving on to the special features, I will begin with A King in New York on Disc 1. Like always the first extra is the David Robinson introduction. In it, he explains Chaplin's exile and Michael Chaplin's performance in the film. Not the best of the introductions, but still worthwhile. The "Chaplin Today" show is much more interesting. With lots of archive footage dealing with Chaplin's exile from the United States, how he made the film, how he thought up the idea and his life living in Switzerland. It's a very engaging program that also has a wonderful chat with Michael Chaplin. Why he's speaking in French, I have no idea. It's still an brilliant documentary nonetheless.

Next we have some rather boring outtakes that Chaplin made for the American release of the film. Taking a different cue, it first shows the final cut and the deleted scenes intergrated. It would have been interesting, but unfortunatly it isn't and brings the DVD down quite a bit. Some outtakes are just one second long, while the more engaging ones are longer. We then go to a brilliant clip showing Chaplin conducting the musical score for the film. It's very interesting and highly interesting to hear the commentator's comments. It brings to mind a similiar brilliant piece on The Kid DVD. A King in New York finishes with three great trailers, a terrible photo gallery and about fifteen interesting posters.

We now enter A Woman of Paris on Disc 2. The introduction by David Robinson starts off the extras as always. Once again, he gives a brilliant narration and gives a lot of interesting information. The "Chaplin Today" documentary is not as successful. Since Chaplin doesn't appear in this film, they make it in a different style. It's poorly done, though and is probably the worst of the "Chaplin Today" documentaries on the set. Next we find some deleted shots, which are done in the same manner as the outtakes in the A King in New York extras. The shots are around a few seconds long and aren't that interesting. This is a very poor extra.

Much better and a brilliant historical footnote is silent news reel footage showing Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith signing the United Artists contract. It's a brilliant piece that can been seen over and over again. Some more silent footage called "Paris in the 20's" is extreamly boring and offers nothig more then a look at Paris in the 1920's. Not even a bit of Chaplin at the end can help this lackluster piece. Next is an amateur film called "Camille." This feature is rather poor and very boring. There's nothing at all interesting or worthwhile about it. I really don't understand why they put it into the extras. The only notable thing in this film is Chaplin's recreation of his own bread rolls dance. We follow that with a very well narrated trailer and a brilliant photo gallery. There is are some informative extras spread around the discs of the two films, but there are some uninteresting aspects as well. I award the special features a "B" grade.

The final Chaplin films to be found in The Chaplin Collection are a series of his short films entitled The Chaplin Revue. These two discs consist of his later First National shorts rather than the films he made at Keystone and Mutual early in his career. A Dog's Life plays as a shorter and more animal-based version of The Kid and it thoroughly succeeds as we watch the Tramp attempt to take care of a dog he saves. In Shoulder Arms, he heads to the battlefield in a comedy about World War I. Chaplin was at first nervous of tackling such a serious topic, but went ahead anyway with fine results. The parts in the trenches are funnier than the second half involving the Tramp sneaking behind enemy lines. However, the results are still splendid. Chaplin's last short The Pilgrim is also very funny as usual with him playing a criminal who disguises himself as a preacher. This allows for many enjoyable scenes with the town's people in wonder at this new, strange citizen.

One of the few Chaplin's misfires occurs with Sunnyside in which he plays a hotel bellboy trying to impress his girlfriend. It has its moments, but it's just not that interesting and funny. The famous fantasy scene is worth checking out, though. In A Day's Pleasure, Charlie takes his family on a trip to the sea. It's a funny piece of work as usual from Chaplin and be sure to spot The Kid's Jackie Coogan as one of Charlie's sons. The Idle Class has Chaplin playing dual rules (a feat he would later attempt in The Great Dictator) and the results are marvelous with the Tramp and the Millionaire switching places thanks to a costume ball. The best short on these two discs is Pay Day which shows Charlie's day at work and the results of him out drinking with the boys. Every single frame is fantastic to watch and it is certainly a must-see. While, I would have enjoyed having Easy Street and The Immigrant on here, what we get is rather nice.

There are a couple of Introductions from David Robinson (one per disc) that provide the usual interesting information. There is a deleted scene from Shoulder Arms provided which shows Charlie's life before going to fight in the war. It's a very amusing scene, but it is understandible why it was cut out. "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. Another historical curiousity is a short propanga film called The Bond which Chaplin made to raise money for the war effort. There are a couple of deleted scenes from Sunnyside as well as footage of Chaplin with visitors to the set. The extras on the set conclude with a trailer for The Chaplin Revue, and a gallery with photos and posters. Some great historical footnotes have been added and I give the extras here an "A-" grade.

The last film in The Chaplin Collection is the documentary Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin. Directed by Time film critic Richard Schickel, it details the life of the great director going from his childhood to the end of his life. The film goes in depth on both the making of Chaplin's work and the controversies from his lifetime. Both Chaplin fans and those new to his works will be highly impressed by this documentary, which also features a whole bunch of famous people talking about Charlie's work. Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp, Woody Allen, Richard Attenborough, Robert Downey Jr, Geraldine Chaplin and other folks chat about Charlie's brilliance. There are some naysayers, though. Allen, for example, isn't exactly fond of the famous globe dance in The Great Dictator. This is a touching and wonderfully directed piece that finishes this fabulous box-set nicely.

Warner Brothers has wonderfully put Chaplin's films on DVD with a splendid transfer and bountiful extras. This is worth a purchase by any fan of Chaplin or old-time cinema.

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