Charlie Chaplin Short Comedy Classics: The Complete Restored Essanay & Mutual Collection (7 Discs) (R) product details page

Charlie Chaplin Short Comedy Classics: The Complete Restored Essanay & Mutual Collection (7 Discs) (R)

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The Little Tramp comes to America in Charles Chaplin's two-reeler Mutual film The Immigrant (1917), an early, astute combination of social satire and straight comedy. Casting a critical eye on Lady Liberty rhetoric about welcoming the huddled masses, Chaplin pointedly contrasts symbols of American freedom with the reality suffered by the Tramp and his fellow poverty-stricken arrivals, as they are roped in like cattle and treated roughly by immigration authorities. At the same time, Chaplin mines humor out of the Tramp's refusal to be brought low, whether he's fishing amid seasick travelers, negotiating the perilously rocking boat, fending off an arrogant waiter, or finding love with Edna Purviance. Chaplin's technical restraint let his mime and sly visual compositions speak for themselves. Chaplin was already a star from his work for Mack Sennett and a seasoned director from his Essanay shorts, but his twelve shorts for Mutual turned him into an international superstar; The Immigrant and Easy Street (1916) presaged the social commentary of such later Chaplin features as The Kid (1921) and The Gold Rush (1925). Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide

One of Charles Chaplin's most famous comedies, Easy Street is a superb example of the comedian's early work, a period in which he displayed an astounding streak of creative genius, making a series of stunning and deeply original comedy shorts on an absolute assembly-line basis. And yet, when he made Easy Street, Chaplin was coming to end of his two-reel period, and would soon embark on the series of feature films that would solidify his early reputation. Easy Street was made for the Mutual Film Corporation only four years before Chaplin directed his first feature, the deeply sentimental melodrama The Kid (1921), in which he co-starred with a young Jackie Coogan (who enjoyed a brief career renaissance in the '60s on the Addams Family TV series as Uncle Fester). In Easy Street, which Chaplin starred in and directed (albeit without screen credit) in addition to having created the story and worked on the screenplay with Vincent Bryan and Maverick Terrell, Chaplin's Tramp character winds up on the right side of the law for a change, as a policeman patrolling one of the toughest districts in town. The usual members of the Chaplin stock company are well in evidence; Edna Purviance is back as a mission worker whom The Tramp is smitten with; Eric Campbell plays the toughest bully on the block; and future Warner Brothers director Lloyd Bacon has an uncredited bit as a drug addict. The key set piece of film is undoubtedly the sequence in which The Tramp, unable to beat Eric Campbell's bully in a fight, finally resorts to sticking the bully's head in a gas street lamp. The bully is thus forced to inhale the gas and is knocked unconscious. Beating the bully up makes The Tramp the ruler of the district; suddenly he is a hero and takes to his new role with great satisfaction. There is a last-minute setback for The Tramp, however, as the bully escapes from jail and kidnaps The Tramp's precious mission worker. But then, accidentally sitting on a stray hypodermic needle left behind by one of the district's drug addicts, The Tramp is suddenly filled with the strength of ten men and cleans up the town in short order. One of Chaplin's best and most accomplished early shorts, Easy Street demonstrates again his keen skills as a farceur and his almost balletic movements as an actor. After Easy Street, Chaplin's status as a screen presence was iconic. Wheeler Winston Dixon, All Movie Guide

One of Chaplin's most famous comedies for the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, and one which helped to sharply define the persona of the Tramp character, The Tramp finds Chaplin directing himself as a hobo, adrift on the highway of life, when fate takes hand in his affairs. He comes across a young woman (Edna Purviance, one of Chaplin's most frequent leading ladies in his early comedies) who is being beset by a group of other hoboes (one of whom is played by Bud Jamison, who would later become a regular in the Three Stooges shorts at Columbia in the 1930s). Charlie steps in and beats them all up, throwing them in a lake in the process. The young woman takes The Tramp back to her father's farm, where Charlie tries and fails miserably at performing even the most menial chores, much to the young woman's amusement. Much of the film is taken up with these farm gags, and Chaplin builds up his timing perfectly, so that even the simplest task seems absolutely beyond his reach. When the gang of hoboes whom Charlie has beaten off before try to break into the house, Charlie once again comes to the rescue, hoping secretly that the young woman will find a place for him in her heart. Alas, she is already engaged (her fiancé is played by future director Lloyd Bacon, who also does double duty here as one of the hoboes in an obvious economic move), and Charlie is left to pen a farewell note and drift out of her life and into his next adventure, as the character of the Tramp must. In his unrequited quest for romance, Chaplin here is working on one of his favorite themes: the Tramp, unlucky in love, and beset from all sides by adversity, who nevertheless manages to triumph in a variety of small yet significant ways, and who, although capable of minor acts of larceny, is essentially the moral center of the universe he inhabits. Chaplin's star would continue to rise in his other films of the period; he was on his way to becoming one of the highest paid performers in the film industry, exerting total creative control over his films. Wheeler Winston Dixon, All Movie Guide

One of the films directed by Chaplin during his white-hot streak of comedy shorts for the Mutual Film Corporation, The Vagabond also gestures toward the development of the Tramp persona in such films as The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), and City Lights (1931), and hones Chaplin's considerable skills as a director. After starting out in such primitive slapstick efforts as Henry Lehrman's Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), which many agree is one of the first fully realized manifestations of the Tramp persona for which Chaplin became famous, Chaplin realized that he had to take control of his image, and his films, if he hoped to achieve any real and lasting artistic satisfaction and/or commercial impact. Just two years later, by the time of The Vagabond, Chaplin was already an assured director, even if his visual style remained deeply theatrical. In The Vagabond, Chaplin appears as a down-on-his-luck violinist who travels to the countryside and falls in love with a young woman (the radiant Edna Purviance) who is being held against her will by a group of gypsies led by veteran Chaplin heavy Eric Campbell. Rescuing her from the troupe, the Tramp accompanies the young woman as she has her portrait painted an itinerant artist (played by Lloyd Bacon, who would later go on to become one of Warner Bros.' most important directors in the 1930s and '40s). But, as is usually the case with the Tramp's comedies, there is heartbreak at the core of the work; the young woman falls in love with the artist, and Charlie's affections are once again spurned. Fate takes a hand when the portrait is seen by a older woman (Charlotte Mineau) who recognizes the young woman as her daughter, who had been kidnapped when she was just a child. At the film's end, the girl is reunited with her mother, and she offers Chaplin's character money as a reward, but the Tramp refuses any payment for his "services." Instead, he is content to wander into his next adventure, perpetually in search of romance, success, and a comfortable station in life. The Vagabond is one of Chaplin's most affecting short comedies, and in his ill-fated romance with Edna Purviance's character, Chaplin prefigures the leading ladies he would work with in his films throughout his long career: unattainable objects of desire who are always interested in some other suitor. But how could the Tramp's fate be otherwise? Destined to roam the back roads of society, continually searching for respectability, Chaplin created a character imbued with the essential paradoxes of human existence: the desire to belong, to be respected by one's peers, and yet remain apart from society, able to function with some degree of freedom. Chaplin was making a fortune with these early films, but he was also astutely paving his way for his later work as a director of feature films for his own studio, as the two-reel comedy format collapsed. Wheeler Winston Dixon, All Movie Guide

In early 1916, Charles Chaplin signed a contract with the Mutual Film Company to produce 12 two-reel comedies for 10,000 a week, an unprecedented amount of money at the time. Over the next 16 months, Chaplin churned out twelve little masterpieces that represent perhaps the height of his artistry, and together made up, according to Chaplin, "the happiest time of my career." Behind the Screen is the seventh Chaplin Mutual, and one of the funniest. Like the others, it is a sublime combination of the fast-paced (and often violent and nihilistic) slapstick of Chaplin's Keystone period with touches of the gentle pathos that would dominate his later career. Chaplin had previously used a behind-the-scenes setting in A Film Johnnie (1914), but here the idea is more refined, and the skillfully choreographed set pieces more dazzling. Produced, written, directed, and scored by Chaplin, the film also features beloved Chaplin regulars Edna Purviance and Eric Campbell in plum roles. Behind the Screen also contains Chaplin's only recorded pie fight. Mark Pittillo, All Movie Guide

The Rink is not so much a fully developed short, but rather a series of sight gags in a restaurant and a skating rink with Charles Chaplin at the height of his considerable powers as a physical comedian. His grace and skill in the film are undeniable; the plot, such as it is, is negligible. Edna Purviance is back as the object of Chaplin's affections; Eric Campbell plays the aptly named Mr. Stout, who has designs on Purviance's character; and Lloyd Bacon and Charlotte Mineau show up in bit parts. Chaplin's skill in assembling these brief shorts was by this time legendary (as was his salary). As the writer, director, and star of the film, Chaplin was clearly chafing at the bit, and wanted to move on to bigger and better things. But for the moment, one is more than content to watch Chaplin trip through the film with a display of confidence unmatched by any of his comic peers of the era. Chaplin's Tramp character, whether appearing as himself or, as in this film, briefly impersonating a social "swell," Sir Cecil Seltzer, belonged to the public, and was the ideal comic silent film personage. One of the reasons that Chaplin resisted the coming of sound so intensely was because he knew that the moment The Tramp spoke, much of the magic of the character would immediately vanish. Indeed, he managed to successfully keep The Tramp a silent character though several sound films, including City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936), before finally capitulating to the new demands of the medium and giving a voice to the character in The Great Dictator (1940). Thus, some 17 years after sound was generally introduced, The Tramp character spoke onscreen for the first time; but just as Chaplin predicted, much of the magic was lost. Here, we can see Chaplin at his finest, as a phantasmal figure of the silent era, alternately moving and comic, using the language of his facial and body movements to create a unique and immediately identifiable character, one which the public embraced wholeheartedly. Chaplin's later work, significantly, would not be so universally embraced. Wheeler Winston Dixon, All Movie Guide

The Floorwalker is one of Charlie Chaplin's lesser shorts. Through much-labored slapstick, Chaplin mugs his way through a comedy of sight gags, pratfalls, and mistaken identity as The Tramp. As always, Chaplin is a marvel to watch as he deftly wreaks havoc on the sales floor of a respectable department store. Lloyd Bacon has a choice part as the assistant store manager (or floorwalker) who looks suspiciously like The Tramp, a fact that will prove inconvenient for the real Tramp later in the film. Bacon and his stooge (played by Eric Campbell) are in the process of robbing the store, and when The Tramp comes through the doors to help himself to a shave, the case of mistaken identity begins. Chaplin and Bacon even perform a variation on the "missing mirror" gag that originated in vaudeville, and was most memorably used by the Marx Brothers in their classic film Duck Soup (1933), and before that in Alice Guy-Blaché's one-reel comedy His Double (1911). Many of the best gags center on an escalator that becomes the center of the action as the film nears its conclusion. For Chaplin's first film at Mutual, however, it is an uneven effort at best, with a slapped-together feeling; only the comic timing of Chaplin, Bacon, and Eric Campbell as an ensemble spark any real viewer response. That said, The Floorwalker is still a remarkable accomplishment for a young comedian on his way up, and a testament to the workmanlike ethic that pervaded all of Chaplin's two-reel comedies. Wheeler Winston Dixon, All Movie Guide

The Burlesque on Carmen is an entertaining enough little picture from Charlie Chaplin, but far from his best. It should be noted right away, however, that this is probably not Chaplin's fault: Carmen was re-edited after Chaplin completed it, deleting some of his scenes and adding in newly shot footage with a character played by Ben Turpin, which wasn't in the original. Considering that, it's no wonder that Carmen is jumpy and a bit lumpy, and that the plot doesn't always make a lot of sense. That said, Carmen still features Chaplin, and that alone makes it worth a look. If less than totally inspired, he's still in good form, and his irreplaceable combination of feistiness, cowardice, haughtiness and humility is shown to good advantage here. His lengthy sword fight with his rival is extremely funny, full of the balletic grace that infuses his best physical comedy, and there are delightful little gems or gemlike moments scattered throughout. Turpin is also amusing; if his work doesn't score as strongly, it's simply because it feels forced in to the proceedings rather than an organic part of them. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide