The Chaplin Mutual Collection
Charlie Chaplin was touring the US with Fred Karno's comedy troupe in
1913 when he was recruited by Mac Sennett's Keystone Films. They signed
him at $150 a week and put him to work making one reel slapstick shorts.
He quickly became the star of the lot, with his films becoming more and
more popular. With this success Chaplin was able to exert more control
on his movies, which led to higher quality films and even bigger demand.
Soon he was writing and directing all of his pictures. While at Keystone
he came up with the costume for the character that would soon be known
around the world.
his contract was up, Chaplin was a star and wanted a star's salary. Keystone
couldn't meet his price, so he signed a one year contract with Essanay
for an astounding $1250 a week. It was during this time that Chaplin came
up with the Tramp's personality and character, which lead to even more
fame. While at Essanay he became a national sensation and his shorts started
becoming more popular than the feature films that they were opening for.
When the Essanay contract was up, he was the most in demand actor in
the world. He was wined and dined by several companies bidding for his
service, but he ended up signing with Mutual in 1916 where he made $10,000
a week, plus bonuses. He was not only the highest paid actor; he had a
higher salary than anyone in the country.
he arrived at Mutual, Chaplin had the look and the personality for his
character, and that would be enough for just about all other comedians.
He could have continued to churn out a two-reeler every month or two and
become very, very rich if he wanted to. Chaplin wanted more than that.
He wanted to create art. It was during his tenure with Mutual that Chaplin
evolved his comedy style to include bitter sweet elements and pathos. This
would set him apart from all other comics and make him the most famous
person in the world.
Image has released these 12 important films on DVD once before over
three volumes. They have now released them for a second time, digitally
cleaned and with some missing scenes added in. These shorts also have new
scores that are very good and copious extras that make this well worth
a double dip.
One of the biggest improvements with this set over the previous three
discs is that the films are arranged in chronological order. Watching these
you can see Chaplin's style evolve. He starts off with simple slapstick
shorts with some creative ideas, but still filled with prat-falls and sight
gags and often ended with a chase. As the series progresses his films become
more sensitive and Chaplin gave his movies heart. One of the most significant
series of films in the history of comedy, it was the Tramp in these films
that the world fell in love with.
The films in this collection are:
The Floorwalker – this film ends very abruptly, indicating that
it may still be incomplete.
The Fireman – these first two still have the feel of his earlier
work. Mostly gags and falls, and they both end with a chase. While amusing,
they only hint at what is to come.
The Vagabond – Chaplin weaves drama and sadness into this film
with great success. An important stepping stone for the actor.
One A. M. – this film is improved with the footage that was
added in with this release. This is also an interesting experiment; except
for the brief appearance of a cab driver, Chaplin is working solo here.
The Pawnshop – another wonderfully comic short. The way the
Chaplin interacts with props in this would be expanded upon in future films,
notable The Gold Rush.
Behind the Screen – a parody of slapstick comedy that has no
meaning, this is arguably the funniest of the Mutuals.
The Rink – Chaplin demonstrates who graceful he can be even
while clowning around.
Easy Street – the last four films, starting with Easy Street,
really showcase Chaplin's talent. Confident and in control, Chaplin was
able to give these films the time that was needed to craft them without
going overboard. This is a great story about a city street where things
were anything but easy.
The Cure – another wonderfully funny short where Chaplin, not
playing the Tramp, goes off to a hospital to 'rest' and cure his alcoholism.
The Immigrant – a masterpiece. Simply brilliant. This was Chaplin's
favorite Mutual and it's easy to see why. It's funny, graceful and touching
all at the same time.
The Adventurer – This last Mutual film was the most popular
of the bunch when released and certainly helped him get the record-breaking
contract with First National.1 A fast and
furious comedy it is very unlike the gag pictures that he made only a year
and a half earlier when he started his relationship with Mutual. A wonderfully
amazing set of films that are not only very funny, but show Chaplin's style
emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon.
Chaplin is so entertaining in these films that it's easy to overlook
the simple direction. Chaplin didn't work from a script. He'd just get
his crew together, come up with a set (a store, a skating rink) and then
have everyone stand around while he came up with the gags and story. This
process could take days or weeks (and even longer later in his career.)
After he figured out what the action would be, Chaplin would act out each
individual part in minute detail for each actor. Then everything would
be filmed, with Chaplin making changes and improving the story as he went.
Because of this unique way of making a movie, the direction is rather
basic. The films consist entirely of medium and long shots, with hardly
any camera movement. The focus is on the comedy, not on fancy tracking
shots or pans over elaborate sets. This simple down to earth style of direction
actually works well in these films. It was a style that Chaplin would use
for the rest of his life.
One of the biggest differences between this release and the previous
Image version of the Chaplin Mutuals is the new soundtrack. Carl Davis
has created a new orchestral score that is just excellent. This new soundtrack
is definitely superior to Michael Mortilla's synthesizer track for the
earlier edition. Davis does a good job matching the feel and emotion of
the music to what is happening on screen but the music never overshadows
or dominates the visuals. The only complaint I have is that some sound
effects were added which distracted from the action. Aside from that one
critique, this is a nice set of scores that works very well.
This edition of these films uses the same masters as the previous Image
release did; the 1984 David Shepard restorations. Shepard used the finest
surviving 35 mm prints and negatives when he did his work, and the image
looks very good. These look better than the earlier release because they
have been digitally cleaned with techniques that weren't available or practical
when the other set was being mastered.
In side by side comparisons between the two editions, this new set was
better, but only slightly. There was less spotting and the transitions
from black to white were much smoother with a wider range of gray shades.
The new image is just more pleasing. They did a nice job on cleaning these
up. The differance is subltle though, and weren't very noticable in the
screen caps that I made so I didn't include them.
In addition to the improved picture, there are added scenes and bits.
The biggest addition is to the movie One A.M., where seven minutes worth
of film have been added back. They used a totally different print for this
film. The earlier version came from a print that had a soundtrack added
to one side which caused the image area to be squeezed. The result was
a nearly square picture instead of a 1.33:1 image. This new print, in addition
to being more complete, has the correct aspect ratio. The down side is
that it is softer than the earlier release with fewer details. It is still
a nice looking version of this funny film.
The image quality does vary from short to short, but this is probably
the best these films will look. The picture is overall really outstanding.
The contrast is very good and the level of detail is excellent. The entire
set has a very pleasing look. The only complaint that I really have
is that the image has been rather liberally windowboxed. I understand
wanting to correct for overscan an make sure that everyone sees the entire
picture, but the black bars were wider than the needed to be. This
is a minor complaint though.
There are a couple of extras with this set that add a lot of value.
First off is a 75-minute documentary on Chaplin – The Gentleman Tramp.
This was made in 1975 before the advent of home video and a lot of the
film is taken up with clips from Chaplin's comedies, which would have been
hard to see when the special was made. These clips take up too much time
however and leave very little room for information about Chaplin himself.
They gloss over his childhood and only give a brief intro to his films.
A quick and superficial overview of the comedian's life.
The second documentary is Chaplin's Goliath, a biography of Eric
Campbell the heavy in these shorts. This is a nice inclusion, especially
since it is available separately and retails for $20. The documentary itself
is a little sparse. There's not a lot known about Campbell's early days
back in Scotland and even after he came to America the information is spotty.
Unfortunately he died in a car accident just as Chaplin was reaching his
highest heights and so his story ended abruptly. Well worth watching even
if there isn't as much meat as one would like.
These discs also have a photo gallery of 90 images all together, some
of which are behind the scenes shots and many of which aren't available
There are also two booklets, one covering the Mutuals that is made up
of excerpts from Jeffery Vance's book Chaplin: Genus of the Cinema
and a second contains an essay by Richard Patterson on the creation of
the documentary The Gentleman Tramp. Both of these are excellent
and add to the appreciation of the films presented on the DVDs.
Is it worth an upgrade?:
This is always a hard question to answer since everyone's criteria for
double dipping is different, but I feel this is work a purchase even if
you have the original releases. The superior video quality, not to mention
the extra scenes are welcome additions, but the new score is the biggest
improvement and well worth the investment.
This is just a great package. Twelve extraordinary films where viewers
can witness Charlie Chaplin turn from a very talented comedian into an
artist. These films are touching and charming, but above all very funny.
The image quality is improved, there is newly added footage, and the soundtrack
is vastly improved. The two documentaries and enclosed booklets are welcome
bonus items too. This set comes Highly Recommended.
1) In 1917 Chaplin signed an incredibly lucrative contract
with First National Picture Corporation that would make him an independent
contractor. Chaplin agreed to make eight two-reel comedies over the next
eighteen months. He would receive $125,000 for each picture, but he had
to pay for all cost of producing the movies. He would then split the profits
from the distribution of the pictures 50/50. In addition to this he was
giving a $75,000 signing bonus. The biggest part of the contract though
was that he would retain the copyright on his films, and in five years
he would also own the worldwide distribution rights. A very sweet deal
that made Chaplin very wealthy.