23 July 2024

Blu-ray Review – Charlie Chaplin: The Mutual Films Collection

BFI has upgraded their collection of Charlie Chaplin’s classic short films for Mutual to blu-ray. The set spans the years 1916 to 1917 so they are almost 100 years old at this point. They come at a mid-period during the time Chaplin was still doing Silent shorts, these films show Chaplin really honing his craft with considerable more creative control than ever before. Chaplin would then get a deal with First National and within a few years make his first feature The Kid in 1921.

The films themselves a somewhat mixed bag, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the Chaplin films from City Lights to Limelight, my favourite being his pitch black comedy Monsieur Verdoux. However this set is full of the charm, wit and physical comedy we all love about Chaplin. The second half-dozen of films (there are 12 in total) are the stronger half as can expect considering he only got better as he went along for the most part.

The first film that shows his total genius is One A.M. which is a sidesplittingly funny film about Chaplin coming home late completely shitfaced. It’s has some of the finest physical comedy this side of Modern Times in Chaplin’s career and gives his friendly arch-rivals Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton a run for their money. Some of the early films in the set suffer from poor source prints so they seem more “jittery” than normal and the film’s speed is wrong.

The 3 most widely seen films are Behind the Screen, Easy Street and The Immigrant and for good reason. Behind the Screen is one of Chaplin’s most charming films and one of very few he made about filmmaking and even has a scene where a stage hand thinks Chaplin kisses a man who is actually a woman in drag! Easy Street has Chaplin playing a his trademark little tramp character who gets hired as a cop to sort out “Easy Street”, it’s obviously inspired by his childhood in London.

The Immigrant as the title suggests is about an immigrant coming to the US; not unlike Chaplin himself. The film’s set piece is in a restaurant where Chaplin’s tramp is too broke to afford to pay his bill and through elaborate means he eventually pays it. The relationship with the woman he meets on the boat over is reminiscent of the very moving relationship in City Lights. It shows Chaplin already had emotional pull over an audience this early. The film would later be used as evidence ridiculously to claim Chaplin had Anti-American views because he kicks the immigration officer.

The set of films feature a variety of score for each films most notably Carl Davis who scores every film. The alternative scores include a few by the wonderful Neil Brand who people know from the Sound of Cinema documentary series he hosted on BBC4. Francis Ford Coppola’s uncle Antonio does a few as does Stephen Horne. Audio commentaries, some archive footage and a short interview with Carl Davis are also included along with a booklet with writing on the films.

Ian Schultz

Genre:  Comedy | Distributor: BFI | BD Release Date: 25th May 2015 (UK) |Rating: U | Director: Charlie Chaplin | Cast: Charlie Chaplin | Buy: Charlie Chaplin: The Mutual Films Collection (Limited Edition Blu-ray box set)

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