Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 6

Essanay and Mutual Restored in HD

  • Covering the definitive editions of the Little Tramp’s pivotal short films
  • They’re closer than ever to the versions Chaplin’s original audiences saw
  • They now come with a multitude of new custom scores, as well as reusing some old favourites

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

The Rink (1916) on the floor – (L-R) Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell and Albert Austin, cropped

The Rink (1916) on the floor: (L-R) Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell and Albert Austin


Contents


2014 Essanay restorations

The most recent all-new restorations are truly revelatory and way beyond anything previously issued, in terms of quality and completeness. These will undoubtedly remain the definitive versions for some time to come.

Charlie Chaplin The Essanay Comedies UK BFI Blu-ray

Charlie Chaplin: The Essanay Comedies UK (BFI) BD set

So far they’ve been issued in:

Criterion’s release of Chaplin’s Limelight (1952) includes the restored Essanay short, A Night in the Show (1915), as an HD extra.

These restorations have the most dynamic accompaniments yet, especially so in their Blu-ray (BD) editions, all of which feature lossless audio. Robert Israel‘s excellent scores, first recorded for David Shepard’s original restorations, are repurposed to great effect on half of the films. The remainder have brand new scores by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and Timothy Brock.

They first saw release on DVD in mainland Europe and were ecstatically received. But even those versions, especially A Night Out (1915) and Police (1916), were considerably improved on for their later US release and yet further for the UK. In fact, the UK edition also contains everything in the US set and more besides. They both have all 14 films with two extra shorts, the later-issued cash-ins Triple Trouble (1918, 24min) and Charlie Butts In (c.1920, 10min). The UK BFI set additionally includes Charlie’s Triple Trouble (1948, 16min), a British recut reissue of the former film featuring the voice of comedian Tommy Handley. In a similar vein is a recut version of Burlesque on Carmen (37min), aligned with a Peter Sellers-narrated 1951 reissue soundtrack. Last of all is The Long Year at Essanay (22min), a new video essay by film historian Glenn Mitchell. Both sets feature substantial booklets with many rare photos, essays and descriptions of the films, but here too the BFI has the edge.

In the sole case of the original Triple Trouble there were no good quality film materials available, so both the US and UK sets use an unrestored, zoomed-in analogue master. Though it pales next to the generally excellent quality of the other films included, it has been stabilised and given new intertitles and a great new Mont Alto score. Consequently it looks perfectly acceptable and certainly much better than most public domain Chaplins prior to their restoration.

The Spanish BD set is region 0, though its sleeve wrongly states region B. Its extras are Bravo Charlot! (2002, 39min), a French documentary with optional Spanish or Portuguese subtitles, and the short, Little Tich and His Funny Feet (1900, 2½min).

Italy and France may not have received the restorations in HD, but their DVD extras do include the feature length Carmen (1915), parodied by Chaplin in his penultimate approved Essanay short, A Burlesque on Carmen (1915).

Charlie Chaplin's Essanay Comedies 1915 (Flicker Alley) US Blu-ray and DVD box set

Chaplin’s Essanay Comedies 1915 (Flicker Alley) US BD and DVD box set


2013 Mutual restorations

These restorations get closer than ever to the films in their original state, and are in by far the best quality yet. For the first time, according to David Shepard, “exact reproductions of the original 1916–1917 intertitles” have been added, but as no original main title cards have ever been found, generic ones are used. “Archival restoration practices have come a long way in the past 40 years and it is now more or less set in stone that if you cannot authenticate, you do not fake.” He discusses the restoration process in more detail here.

Charlie Chaplin - The Mutual Comedies 1916-1917 UK (BFI) Blu-ray set

Charlie Chaplin: The Mutual Comedies 1916–1917 UK (BFI) BD set

They’ve so far seen the following releases:

As with the latest Essanays, the sets in mainland Europe were first out of the gate and the US set was delayed while even more work was done and some prints replaced with superior copies. In particular, The Rink (1916) and Easy Street (1917) initially had dark, dupey prints that were cropped on the left edge to carry the optical soundtrack of later sound reissues. These were replaced with earlier generation, full aperture silent prints. The new scores were recorded to the initial restorations and as the earlier European sets use the unaltered transfers, they do not have any sync issues. However, as with the latest Essanays, the tweaking of the US set’s prints had the unfortunate effect of throwing some of the pre-recorded scores very slightly out of sync. The release of the UK set, also including the improved prints, was delayed further still for yet more work. This included correcting most of the new sync issues and as a result, overall it features the best audio and video of the lot.

Charlie Chaplin and Eric Campbell in The Rink (1916) Spanish Divisa Blu-ray screenshot

Charlie Chaplin and Eric Campbell in The Rink (1916) Spanish Divisa BD screenshot; it goes from this…

Charlie Chaplin and Eric Campbell in The Rink (1916) US Flicker Alley Blu-ray screenshot

US Flicker Alley BD screenshot; to this…

Charlie Chaplin and Eric Campbell in The Rink (1916) UK BFI Blu-ray screenshot

UK BFI BD screenshot; good, better and best.

Kudos, by the way, to my good friend Valerio Greco, who was the first to spot these improvements and note them on his Silent Valerio Page. Praise too, for Doug Weir, producer at the BFI, who insisted on holding back both their sets to make them the absolute best they could be.

As with the latest Essanay restorations, the US, UK and Spain are the only countries to get them in HD. The scores vary a lot between the different sets:

  • The US, Italian, German and French sets have two new scores per film: a default small orchestra or period score, and a second option of an improvised piano accompaniment. Apart from One A.M. (1916) that is, which reuses the previous orchestral Carl Davis score, again paired with a new piano accompaniment.
  • The UK set features all 23 new scores, as well as the rest of the earlier Carl Davis ones. So except in the case of One A.M., which has two, every film has three scores; that’s a total of 35 soundtrack choices between the 12 films! We are truly spoiled.
  • The Spanish set ‘only’ contains the brilliant Carl Davis scores.

As great as all the Mutual scores are, those by Carl Davis are most fans’ favoured choice. This marks their third outing on disc, having now accompanied all three major restorations. Re-recorded highlights of them are compiled on the Loitering Without Intent CD (2015, also on MP3), released to coincide with the BFI sets. It features excellent sleeve notes on the inspiration behind his creative process.

The extras vary widely too but are uniformly excellent, with little or no overlap between them. For instance, the US set has two documentaries: the twice previously released Chaplin’s Goliath (1996, 52min) and The Birth of The Tramp (2013, 59min), an English language version of the French-made La naissance de Charlot. The UK has full length audio commentaries for all 12 films by a variety of leading Chaplin experts. It also has some short video extras: two short newsreels, “Chaplin Signs the Mutual Contract” (1916, 34sec) and “Charlie on the Ocean” (1921, 5min), and an interview with composer Carl Davis (9min). Both also have substantial glossy booklets. Meanwhile, the Spanish set is pretty stacked: it has The Birth of The Tramp again, this time in its original French with optional Spanish or Portuguese subs. It also has two Chaplin Essanays, His Regeneration (1915) and Triple Trouble (1918); five Keystone and Essanay shorts starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Mabel Normand and Ben Turpin; an early Chaplin cartoon and a restoration featurette to round things off.

Of the BDs, the US set is region A, the UK region B and the Spanish region 0, despite again saying region B on the sleeve. The US set has the 2.0 stereo scores in lossy Dolby Digital, while the UK and Spanish sets have superior lossless LPCM audio.

The UK BFI BDs are definitely the pick of the bunch, but in all honesty they’re all pretty fantastic. I and many longterm Chaplin fans never dreamed we’d ever actually see such wonderful versions as these, let alone be so spoilt for choice. Happy times.


Mutuals in print

If you wish to know more about the most important set of comedy shorts ever made, look no further than:


Summary

Chaplin’s early catalogue is in a constant state of flux and ever being improved. This occurs as new and better quality film materials and home video formats became available, and as restoration techniques become cheaper yet more sophisticated. Though their quality improves overall from the earliest editions to the last, any of the releases listed in this guide so far are excellent representations of these films and will be more than satisfactory. I hope one day all the restored Keystones will appear in HD but at least for now we have the US region A, UK region B and Spanish region 0 BDs of the Essanays and Mutuals. While copies of the latest restorations should form the basis of any Chaplin collection, it’s also important to bear in mind that manyt of the earlier versions feature unique alternate takes, title cards and scores. Particularly notable among these are the Van Beuren Mutuals and 1995 Essanay and Mutual restorations, but whichever releases you choose, you’re in for a lifetime of laughter – happy viewing!

Right, that’s most of the shorts covered – see Part 7 for the rest of them and Charlie’s features from 1921–1967.

Charlie Chaplin US Mutual trade ad, 1916

US Mutual trade ad, 1916

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.


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 the About page.

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