Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 3

Early Reissues

  • As the Little Tramp’s popularity grew, so did the scale and complexity of his films
  • They became longer and more sophisticated as he moved to bigger studios
  • Each time he moved on, earlier studios recut and reissued his old films
  • This survey of Chaplin’s most significant early reissues throws up a number of fascinating collectibles for the modern fan

If you’ve landed directly on this page I strongly recommend you start from the Part 1 introduction.

Before dealing with the restored Keystones, Essanays and Mutuals, it would be a shame to overlook some earlier versions of those films that are still very desirable. Once he left them, each of Chaplin’s first three studios recut, retitled and reissued numerous Chaplin-unauthorised compilations of their holdings to cash in on his ever increasing popularity. Usually they tried to pass them off as brand new product, hoping to fool a public hungry for more of the Little Tramp. Successive owners of the films  swiftly replaced any previous owners’ branded credits and intertitles; consequently the majority of original examples are now lost, causing a headache for restorers. However, some of the most significant, widely released reissues are extant in one form or another and available to buy. Many contain rare, otherwise unissued footage and soundtracks, making them essential viewing for the dedicated fan or scholar. Eventually of course, Chaplin himself re-edited and scored his First National shorts for reissue, with three of them being compiled into The Chaplin Revue (1959).

Triple Trouble (1918, Charlie Chaplin) US poster

Triple Trouble (1918) US poster


Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914)

Mabel Normand, Charlie Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914)

Almost from their first release, Chaplin’s Keystones were reused and abused especially severely. Literally hundreds of battered, bootlegged, variants constantly made the rounds just within their first few decades of existence. They were endlessly retitled too, with most having half a dozen or more documented variants. There were even some early compilations of the shorts, such as Triangle’s now-lost Mixed Up (1915). Most of the unrestored Keystones are all but unwatchable, and the majority now come with awful needle-drop scores of random old public domain music. They can be easily found via the likes of YouTube or the hordes of cheap public domain Chaplin DVDs.

Perhaps the most interesting Keystone reissue is Tillie’s Punctured Romance. Directed by Mack Sennett, it was the first feature length comedy and Keystone’s only feature, due to the logistical difficulties involved in shooting such a huge production concurrently with dozens of quick and cheap shorts. It starred Marie Dressler, reprising her signature role in the big screen adaptation of the musical stage play, Tillie’s Nightmare. Dressler, who originated the role, also owned the rights to the 1910 play by A. Baldwin Sloane and Edgar Smith, and had toured it for three years to packed houses and rapturous critical notices. She was ably supported onscreen by virtually all of Keystone’s biggest stars including Mabel Normand, Mack Swain and of course, Chaplin.

The resulting film was wildly succesful – even more so than the play – and boosted the popularity of all its cast. Of course Chaplin, even though appearing in a rare non-Tramp role, benefitted the most. The film played constantly for years and beyond its initial run, all subsequent publicity moved Chaplin’s name squarely up to top billing, with Dressler and Normand frquently not even mentioned at all. Capitalising on the by-then universal ‘Chaplinitis’ sweeping the planet, he was also always misleadingly pictured in his Tramp garb.

Two of Tillie‘s numerous international sound reissues are currently in circulation. The first was produced by Walter Futter in 1939 (40min; B&W version) and features a  hot jazz score with judiciously placed sound effects, similar in style to the Van Beuren Mutuals. The second viewable reissue came courtesy of RAS Films International in 1967 (75min) and is accompanied by a tasteful but lively orchestral score by William P. Perry. It also features added sound effects and tongue in cheek narration, as was common practice in silents reissues from the 1950s–1970s. In Australia at least, this version was retitled Charlie’s Big Romance. As usual there were many foreign renamings, for instance for its 1969 Danish run it became Chaplin som lykkejæger (Chaplin as a Lucky Hunter).

A 1950 sound reissue (40min) appears to have been especially strongly exploited, simply judging by the abundance of publicity material online and for sale from dealers and auction sites. Does anyone have a copy? Ultimately, these early Keystones are well worth a look, even if only to better appreciate just how far we’ve come with the brilliant restored versions.

From 1972, Blackhawk Films sold copies of a 16mm print from the Paul Killiam Collection. It was stretch printed (every second frame shown twice) for projection at 24fps and accompanied with a new piano score, also by Perry. Following their acquisition of Blackhawk in 1983, National Telefilm Associates (later renamed Republic Pictures) issued this iteration of Tillie on VHS and LaserDisc.

David Shepard’s Film Preservation Associates later acquired the Blackhawk Library and in 1997 he augmented the Killiam print with material from other sources and a new John Muri organ score. This 72min variable speed version was issued via Kino VHS and Image LD. He went on to improve its picture quality much further by replacing most of the 16mm interpolated material with a 35mm source and issued his ‘final’ version on DVD (Image, 1999). A few years after that, he provided all of his original materials on the film to UCLA for their then-upcoming project…

Tillie has since been returned to virtually her original length by the superlative 2004 restoration (85min, 18fps) from the UCLA and BFI. Supervised by preservationist Ross Lipman, this version combines every known frame of the film in existence. It was screened several times at various film festivals, usually with solo piano accompaniment. Later, as part of the Chaplin Keystone Project, she was given a digital clean-up by Lobster Films in Paris. DS: “As much as possible has been done to balance contrast and the geometry of the shots as the film switches from source to source, as well as to clean the image.. No one would take it for a new film but compared to anything seen in the last 80 years or so, it looks amazing.” The Alloy Orchestra‘s Ken Winokur led Tillie’s Nightmare, a specially convened ensemble, in writing and recording a new ragtime score incorporating songs from the original stage play – which they also performed live at various screenings. This iteration, the nearest to the film’s original release since the 1910s, was issued on DVD from 2010 as part of the complete restored Keystones box sets.

A Burlesque on Carmen (1916)

Esaily the best known of all the early reissues – sadly even more so  than the Chaplin original which spawned it and the two films which spawned that. All are dealt with separately here:

Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide: A Burlesque on Carmen (1915)

A Burlesque on Carmen (1916, Charlie Chaplin) US 1941 reissue lobby card

US 1941 reissue lobby card

The Essanay-Chaplin Revue of 1916

The Essanay-Chaplin Revue of 1916 US magazine advert

The Essanay-Chaplin Revue of 1916 US magazine advert

Following a failed legal attempt by Chaplin to block their reissue of his Carmen, Essanay continued with a series of such films. Another, The Essanay-Chaplin Revue of 1916, was just a lazy splicing together of the 1915 shorts The Tramp, His New Job and A Night Out in their entirety. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this production is that this publicity image shamelessly plagiarised one of celebrated American artist Norman Rockwell‘s most iconic paintings. People in a Theatre Balcony, aka Charlie Chaplin Fans, graced the cover of the October 14, 1916 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, just a week before the October 21 release date of Revue. A rip-off advertising a rip-off – how fitting.

Revue‘s likely similar but more obscure precursor was Charlie’s Stormy Romance (1916).

Chase Me Charlie (1917)

Chase Me Charlie (1917) US poster, 1918

Chase Me Charlie (1917) US poster, 1918

A little more effort was put into the 7-reeler Chase Me Charlie, an entirely British concoction featuring highlights from nine of Chaplin’s Essanays. It was ‘written’ by Herbert Langford Reed, who also directed some new linking scenes which possibly included actor Graham Douglas impersonating the Little Tramp. (Records conflict on this; get in touch if you know more.) Langford Reed is now best remembered as an author of limericks and other witticisms, and a somewhat controversial Lewis Carroll biographyChase Me Charlie was released in the US in 1918, albeit edited down to a 5-reeler. That version resurfaced in 1959, this time with a new synchronised orchestral score by Elias Breeskin. It also featured  narration by Teddy Bergman, who later changed his name to Alan Reed and became best known as the voice of Fred Flintstone. In 1966, writer/producer Samuel M. Sherman reissued the film yet again, but retitled it Chaplin’s Art of Comedy. He retained the Breeskin score but replaced Bergman’s comic narration with newly written dialogue and added a short ‘Hollywood then-and-now’ prologue. That version was released on DVD (Image 1999) and there’s a trailer here.

Amazon: US | UK | It | De | Fr | Es

To coincide with the Art of Comedy‘s 1960s reissue, its soundtrack was released on vinyl and can now also be bought as a download. From the LP’s rear sleeve: “The unique, nostalgic musical moods of the Chaplin’s Art of Comedy score are excellent backgrounds for your home movie shows. Play this record with your favorite silent slapstick comedies (especially those with Charlie Chaplin) and movies you film yourself.”

Triple Trouble (1918)

Triple Trouble (1918, Charlie Chaplin) US poster

Triple Trouble (1918) US poster

Now we come to the most famous – and infamous – Chaplin compilation reissue. Triple Trouble is a two-reeler (23min) consisting of outtakes from Police (1916), some of it flipped to ‘disguise’ its origins, Work (1915) and Life, Chaplin’s abandoned first feature-length comedy. As with A Burlesque on Carmen, Triple Trouble was supplemented with newly shot, non-Chaplin scenes directed by Leo White. Unfortunately, the sum of Triple Trouble‘s parts is greater than the whole, as its storyline is as incoherent as other such cash-ins. Its real value lies in its rare footage, as surviving outtakes from Chaplin’s Keystone and essanay periods are extremely scarce. His original intentions for its extended flophouse sequence remains a subject of hot debate. Just prior to its release, Chaplin took out a trade magazine advert vociferously objecting to its release and Essanay’s disingenuous publicity touting it as new product. However, his attitude apparently softened over the years, as he later thought enough of it to include it in his official filmography, published in his 1964 autobiography. It can be found alongside Carmen in all the restored Essanay collections. David Shepard gave his 1990s restoration a piano score by Eric James, while its latest HD incarnation features a score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Again like Carmen, the latest BFI set has an exclusive second recut UK reissue version: Charlie’s Triple Trouble (10min). It has no actual musical score but is accompanied by a synchronised soundtrack featuring sound effects and a humorous voiceover by comedian Tommy Handley.

Triple Trouble (1918, Charlie Chaplin) US Essanay trade ad. Its claims are a total lie: it's as rehashed as they come.

Triple Trouble (1918) US Essanay trade ad. Its claims are a total lie: it’s as rehashed as they come.

Charlie Butts In (1920)

Last is Charlie Butts In, essentially a one-reel (10min) version of the two-reel second Essanay short, A Night Out (1915). Mostly comprised of interesting alternate takes, it also opens with a unique, funny scene of the Little Tramp conducting a brass band at Mer Island. It’s only available in the latest Essanay collections from the US, UK and France.

Van Beuren Mutuals

Chaplin’s 12 Mutual shorts were reissued numerous times by a handful of different owners during the 1910s and 1920s. In 1932 they were acquired by the Van Beuren Studios who over the next two years reissued them at sound speed, 24 frames per second, with new synchronised soundtracks. These consisted of specially composed hot jazz scores by bandleader Winston Sharples and composer Gene Rodemich, played by many top session musicians, along with over the top sound effects. Van Beuren were primarily known for animation and they scored the Mutuals exactly as they did their cartoons. Additionally, and problematically for restorers, Van Beuren replaced the title cards and removed most of the remaining intertitles, creating many jump cuts and gaps in exact understanding of the action. Nonetheless, their USP is the soundtracks and despite their being tinkered with and sped up, they’re still generally very effective. These versions have remained in circulation, latterly in the public domain, ever since and are many fans’ fondly remembered introduction to the films. You can get an idea of what they’re like from this low quality clip for The Count.

The Cure (1917) with Charlie Chaplin, 1932 Van Beuren reissue poster

The Cure (1917) Van Beuren 1932 reissue poster

In 1938 the Van Beurens were spliced together by new owners Guaranteed Pictures for distribution as three feature-length compilations: the Charlie Chaplin CarnivalCavalcade and Festival, which are available on DVD. Unlike the thoroughly dissipated Keystones and Essanays, early generation materials on the Mutuals remained in good shape, as they have a continuous chain of title since their first release. While working at Blackhawk Films in the early 1970s, David Shepard set up their acquisition of the library containing the Van Beuren compilations, along with some negatives and other material. He and Bill Lindholm then carried out some minor restoration on them. As no original Mutuals’ main title cards are known to exist, Shepard created “ones in period style that… were designed by me in 1974 and are purely conjectural, although they are nice.” At the same time they copied the intertitles from a set of mid-1920s reissues. These titles, with some additions, then appeared on all versions of the films until the 2013 restorations. Remastered from 16mm at 24fps, these versions of the Van Beurens were initially issued in 1975 on 8 and 16mm film. Later they appeared on LaserDisc as Charlie Chaplin: The Early Years, volumes 1–4 (Republic Pictures Home Video 1991). Those versions, copied directly from the LaserDiscs, are available in a 2-DVD-R set (Grapevine, 2010).

The Fireman (1916, Charlie Chaplin) US 1932 Van Beuren reissue poster

The Fireman (1916) US 1932 Van Beuren reissue poster

In 1984 Shepard again worked on the Van Beurens, this time remastering them from full aperture 35mm at 20fps. The jazz soundtracks were then slowed down to match and returned to their original pitch using an Eventide Harmonizer. These were also released on LaserDisc as Chaplin: Lost and Found, volumes 1–3 (Image 1988). Once again, the LaserDiscs have been copied to DVD, this time in a 3-DVD-R set (Reelclassicdvd-r, 2010).

The 1970s versions are rougher looking and cropped on the left edge to accommodate the optical soundtrack. The latter versions, while having better image quality, are missing some footage compared to the earlier versions and due to the alterations have slower, occasionally unsynchronised audio. If it’s image quality you’re looking for, stick to the Mutuals’ more recent restorations. If you’re mainly in it for the Van Beuren scores, the 1975 versions, now on Grapevine, are the overall best ones to go for. Ignore spurious claims by either DVD label to have made any improvements to these films themselves: all they’ve done is copy the LaserDiscs without authorisation and chopped off their original credits in a clumsy attempt to hide the source. Both DVD sets are region 0/NTSC and will play anywhere in the world.

More recently, six of the shorts (The CureThe FloorwalkerThe Vagabond, Behind the ScreenThe Fireman and The Rink) have appeared as extras – in SD – on Umbrella’s Australian Chaplin (1992) BD.

Incidentally, in the latest Mutual restorations, The Pawnshop (1916) has had its Van Beuren score faithfully recreated by Eric Beheim and Robert Israel.

Further reading

The dishonest free-for-all of reissues designed to fool the public right from the early years of the film industry is a fascinating area of study. Distributors faced legal and moral challenges from many quarters, not just the likes of Chaplin. But they ploughed on, undeterred; the profits were just too great. If you’d like to explore further, these two books are the best place to start. Both are meticulously researched and cover Chaplin and his contemporaries in considerable depth.

Charlie Chaplin First National US Photoplay magazine advert, 1918

Charlie Chaplin First National US Photoplay magazine advert, 1918

Grateful thanks to David Shepard (1940–2017) for his help with this article. And a life well-lived, in pursuit of preserving our past and spreading love, joy and laughter.

If you’ve any questions or suggestions, post in the comments below.

I started Brenton Film because I love film – quelle surprise! The silent era, 1930s and 1940s especially get my literary juices flowing though. So you’ll see a lot about those. For more, see this site’s About page.

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