Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 4

Essanay and Mutual 1915–1917: early reissues

  • As his popularity grew, so did the Little Tramp’s 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 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 Essanays and Mutuals, it would be a shame to overlook some earlier versions of both sets 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. Reissued Keystones, whether single titles or recut compilations, mostly survive in fragmented, retitled form, and any viable copies were covered in Part 3. However, many of the most significant, widely released Essanay and Mutual reissues are extant in one form or another, and available to buy. Some of them contain rare, otherwise unissued footage and soundtracks, so 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


Essanay compilations

Immediately after Chaplin’s departure from the company, Essanay released a recut version of his earlier, eponymous Carmen spoof (1915). It was expanded from two to four reels with outtakes and unrelated newly shot scenes, and retitled A Burlesque on Carmen (1916). The original version, perhaps Chaplin’s best Essanay short, usually runs round 31 minutes and is in all the restored Essanay collections detailed in Part 5 and 6. However, the terrible recut version, usually around 44 minutes, is a confusing chore to watch but if you’ve a burning desire to do so, it’s in many of the aforementioned public domain collections – and on YouTube. The latest BFI restored Essanay collection uniquely features an additional reconstructed 1951 reissue version, with narration by Peter Sellers. Following Chaplin’s failed legal attempt to block Carmen, Essanay continued with a short series of such films. The next, 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.

Chase Me Charlie (1918) Essanay Charlie Chaplin compilation US poster

Chase Me Charlie (1918) US Essanay compilation poster

A little more effort was put into Chase Me Charlie (1918), which features highlights from nine of Chaplin’s Essanays and was edited by English writer/director Herbert Langford Reed. He’s now best remembered as an author of limericks and other witticisms, and a somewhat controversial Lewis Carroll biographyChase Me Charlie was itself reissued in the US in 1932 with a new synchronised orchestral  score by Elias Breeskin. Added to that was 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 re-reissued the film, retitling it Chaplin’s Art of Comedy. He retained the Breeskin score but replaced Bergman’s narration 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.

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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, Charlie Chaplin) US poster

Triple Trouble (1918) US poster

Triple Trouble (1918) is a two-reeler 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. Like A Burlesque on Carmen before it, Triple Trouble was supplemented with newly shot, non-Chaplin scenes. It’s unusual as far as Chaplin cash-ins go, by being a comparatively artistically successful effort. Chaplin originally took out a trade ad vociferously objecting to its release it but later thought enough of it to include it in his official filmography, published in his 1964 autobiography. Also like Carmen it can be found in all the restored Essanay collections. As with Carmen, the UK BFI Essanay BD set also includes a second, 1948 recut reissue version featuring the voice of comedian Tommy Handley.

Last is Charlie Butts In (1920), essentially a one-reel version of the two-reel second Essanay short, A Night Out, incorporating alternate takes and scenes of Chaplin conducting a band at Mer Island. It’s available exclusively in the latest Essanay collections from the US, UK and France.

Van Beuren Mutuals

In 1932 the Van Beuren Studios acquired Chaplin’s 12 Mutual shorts and 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. These generally very effective versions have remained in circulation, latterly in the public domain, ever since and are many fans’ fondly remembered introduction to these films. You can get an idea of what they’re like from the low quality clips on YouTube here, here and here.

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

The Cure (1917) Van Beuren 1932 reissue poster

In 1938 they were spliced together into three feature-length compilations: the Charlie Chaplin CarnivalCavalcade and Festival, which are available on DVD. 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, 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.

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

Triple Trouble (1918, Charlie Chaplin) US Essanay trade ad

Triple Trouble (1918) US Essanay trade ad

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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