Warner Home Video presents
The Chaplin Revue (1918-1923)
"And now, let me take you back to the good old silent days. There'll be no talk, no, no realistic sound. I think it would spoil the mood."- Narrator Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance
Other Stars: Sydney Chaplin, Henry Bergman, Tom Wilson, Albert Austin, Chuck Reisner, Mack Swain, Jackie Coogan, Phyllis Allen
Director: Charles Chaplin
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild comic violence, alcoholism)
Run Time: 03h:30m:01s
Release Date: 2004-03-02
DVD ReviewAfter completing his contract for sixteen short films for Mutual in 1917, Charlie Chaplin felt sufficiently confident in his financial wherewithal that he set up his own studio in 1918. However, he still needed to have someone do distribution for him (United Artists had not yet been formed by Chaplin and the other three founders), and he thus contracted to produce eight films for the First National company. A variety of budget and screenplay problems plagued the productions, but they are as a whole an impressive collection of mature Chaplin works, managing to be emotional without the maudlin sentimentality that often derails his feature films.
Disc 1 of this 2-disc set (the package reverses the contents of the two discs) is devoted to The Chaplin Revue, a 1959 compilation (and recutting) of three of these First Nationals, each about four reels in length. A brief bit of narration by Chaplin begins the film, but he thankfully refrains from narrating the events or deleting the title cards as he did for The Gold Rush (1942). The first short is A Dog's Life (1918), featuring the Tramp, who is unable to get work and generally being pushed around. A puppy gets similar treatment from other dogs, and the two form a fast friendship while Charlie attempts to court Edna Purviance. Chaplin's dancing talents are put to good use in these sequences. Shoulder Arms (1918) is Chaplin's homage to the First World War and the men of the trenches; Chaplin had taken a fair amount of heat for not volunteering to fight himself and thus patriotically adding his corpse to the piles of pointlessly slaughtered. This film was apparently an attempt to mend fences with the audience. The subject matter was then still a bit too painfully fresh to be well appreciated, but it holds up pretty well on a modern viewing. Charlie's brother Sydney plays a dual role of both Charlie's friend and the Kaiser himself. There are some excellent bits between Chaplin and Henry Bergman, who also plays numerous roles. The last short is The Pilgrim (1923), the last picture under the First National contract, and one of Chaplin's best. He starts off as an escaped convict who filches the clothes of a parson, and heads for Dead Man's Gulch, Texas. Unbeknownst to him, they've been expecting a new parson there, and soon he's recruited to play the part. The sermon sequence contains some of Chaplin's funniest work as he lampoons the theatrics of the ministry.
The second disc features the other four First National shorts. A Day's Pleasure (1919) feels like a throwback to Chaplin's Keystone days. He's not the familiar Tramp, but the head of a family on a day's outing. As was the case in The Immigrant, Chaplin proves himself unable to resist a seasickness gag or twenty. The finale, involving some tar in the street, has some surprising moments that work well for a picture that was essentially shot in a hurry to mollify the angry distributor. Sunnyside (1919) was thoroughly disastrous, since, after deciding upon the setting of a country hotel, Chaplin was unable to come up with any gags for months, spending money at a furious rate but having little to show for it. But the bucolic setting works quite well for a change of pace for the Tramp, and the sweet story has a fair amount of the atmosphere that would later surface in City Lights (1931).
The Idle Class (1921) finds Chaplin digging deep into his bag of tricks; he returns to the double role of the wealthy drunk and the Tramp that he had made famous in his touring with Fred Karno nearly ten years earlier. This time the Tramp is being mistaken by Edna Purviance for her inebriated husband. The costume ball where they come together is a fun set piece, and the effects work is superbly realized. Pay Day (1922) is another throwback, this time to the Mutual two-reelers and could easily have come out of that period. Charlie is in the building trades. After a hard day's work he takes his pay and gets thoroughly drunk, to the outrage of his virago wife (Phyllis Allen).
Most of these films were recut by Chaplin in his old age, and it is the recut versions that are available on this set. That's regrettable, since even though that may be Chaplin's last word on the pictures, the original versions are the ones that were beloved in their time. Happily, those original versions are still available on Image's First National Collection disc. The substance grade is dropped a notch for the use of these doctored versions.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||no|
Image Transfer Review: The original image is somewhat cropped to accommodate the soundtrack at the side, which throws off the compositions a little. However, it's seldom too noticeable. More problematic is the recurrence of the PAL-NTSC glitch that troubled the first set of Chaplin discs from Warner. Two of every five frames is a double exposure, leading to unnecessary blurring and softening of the image. This is really inexcusable for such a high-profile project; even tiny production companies such as Synapse routinely make PAL-NTSC transfers that don't have this problem; there's no plausible reason that gigantic outfits such as Warner and MK2 cannot do so as well. That's a crying shame, because the prints themselves are in terrific shape, with hardly a speckle or scratch to be seen. But the blur obscures a good deal of the detail. There's also prominent edge enhancement visible, and several films are overly contrasty. The Pilgrim in particular suffers as a result of the boosted contrast, to the point that the concluding gag involving the sign at the Mexican border is lost because the sign is too dark to read. That's not a problem on the Image disc of the First National films, which although more covered with speckles is also a good deal more filmlike in appearance. Finally, the shorts in The Chaplin Revue were stretch-printed at Chaplin's insistence, which not only slows down the action too much, so that people have a floating quality, but it gives everything a herky-jerky appearance as well. Use of the separate shorts rather than the compilation version would have been a better idea. In total, a very dismaying transfer that should have been much, much better.
Image Transfer Grade: D
Audio Transfer Review: The films are offered in both the original mono and a 5.1 remix. Other than a somewhat wider soundstage, the 5.1 track provides little benefit. The audio is quite clean in both, though a bit distorted on occasion and shrill in high and loud segments of the score. But it's certainly an acceptable representation of Chaplin's scores for these pictures.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese, Korean, Laotian with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Deleted Scenes
Layers Switch: 01h:21m:22s (disc 1)
- How to Make Movies
- Liberty Bond promotional film
- Photo gallery
- Poster gallery
Just as interesting is a short entitled How to Make Movies, shot in 1918 or thereabouts and documenting the construction of the Chaplin studios as well as providing behind-the-scenes footage (or more accurately, a comic representation of such). There's a ton of excellent footage of Chaplin in street clothes, should you be interested in such material, plus footage of a golf sequence that wound up in The Idle Class a few years later. A very rare promotional short for Liberty Bonds from 1918 also gives another look at Chaplin's attempts to support the war effort.
There's 12m:59s of completely silent footage of notables visiting Chaplin; one segment with Gen. Leonard Wood includes the sight of Chaplin putting on his famous moustache. A similar bit of footage (8m:14s) features Scots comic Harry Lauder meeting Chaplin and exchanging pleasantries and then characters. Poster and still galleries wrap up the package with a French trailer for The Chaplin Revue (but missing A Dog's Life).
The discs are quite poorly put together from a user-friendliness standpoint. Whenever the discs are accessed there are unskippable and lengthy logos for MK2 and Warner Home Video on both discs. To add insult to injury, at the end of the films on Disc 2 there's an interminable copyright message (again unskippable) that takes OVER TWO MINUTES to get through since all of the screens need to be presented in SEVEN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES. This is completely absurd and knocks another grade off the score. It's infuriating when you want to get back to the supplements and had me about ready to chuck the whole package out the window. Very, very shabby.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsThe use of recut versions of classic shorts, with PAL-NTSC conversion problems among other transfer issues, make this a dubious choice. Although the print quality is not as good on the Image versions of these pictures, I find them more enjoyable. Another alternative for the region-free crowd would be to go for the Region 2 PAL versions, which at least avoids the issues with the poor transfer and makes the most of the superior prints. Disabling the user keys for the duration of eternal copyright notices does nothing to make me happier with this set. Chaplin deserves much better than this dismal release.
Mark Zimmer 2004-03-01