Chaplin Collection, Volume 2

2/12/2004

chaplin

Warner, B&W, NR, 712 min. plus supplements, Dolby Digital 5.1 stereo and original mono, fullscreen, Street: March 2, $99.99, $29.95 each two-disc set, Monsieur Verdoux: single disc $24.98; First Run: L, 1918-57, NA)

The exhaustive Chaplin Collection, Vol. 2 box set picks up where the first collection left off, offering the remainder of his feature films, including one masterpiece (City Lights), one darkly comic cult favorite (Monsieur Verdoux) and several well-loved three-to six-reelers (The Kid, Shoulder Arms, etc.). Featuring films that have once again been digitally remastered from restored vault elements by the Parisian company MK2 under the supervision of the Chaplin family estate, the set has only two drawbacks. Dead silence accompanies the majority of the vintage supplements, which is perfectly fine for newsreels but decidedly deadly for the many rare comedy sequences. The second problem has to do with the feature soundtracks, which all sport Chaplin’s latter-day musical compositions; the maestro’s instrumental compositions are fine, but his inclusion of two absolutely dreadful songs (for The Pilgrim and The Circus) makes one envious of audiences who saw the films in their original state. The superb assortment of extras, also produced by MK2 under the supervision of the Chaplin estate, easily compensates, however, for these audio irritations. Chaplin biographer David Robinson provides fact-filled, on-screen introductions for each feature, while numerous “documents” (read: newsreels and privately shot footage) illustrate the dimensions of Chaplin’s worldwide fame. In a clip from a Viennese sojourn, Chaplin utters the first words he ever spoke on screen, greeting the German cameramen with a hearty, “Guten tag!” The outtakes contained on the set show that Chaplin sometimes discarded fabulous bits of business, like a brilliantly silly sidewalk scene cut from City Lights and some solid gags deleted from Shoulder Arms. He also wisely knew when enough was enough, evidenced here by scenes trimmed from The Kid and the already uneven A King in New York. Most invaluable are a series of French TV productions entitled “Chaplin Today” that illustrate a single feature with commentary by a noted filmmaker. The choices are ideal, with Jim Jarmusch, Abbas Kiarostami, Claude Chabrol, Emir Kusturica and Liv Ullmann making the case for their favorite Chaplin movie. The piece de resistance in the set, however, is a bona fide slice of history: Ralph Barton’s privately made spoof of Camille (1926). The 30-minute film is the damnedest home-movie representation of the Roaring ’20s you’re likely to see, as a startling array of celebrities act out a demented version of Dumas’ classic. Chaplin, ubiquitous throughout, is joined by actors (Ethel Barrymore), writers (Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser) and other legendary figures (Paul Robeson, Clarence Darrow). A Chaplin Collection 12-disc gift set also will be available. It includes all 11 features, plus the Richard Schickel-directed documentary Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, which is scheduled to debut on TCM in March. —Ed Grant