Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 7

Shorts and Features 1918–1967


Charlie Chaplin Competition: Win Artificial Eye Blu-rays and DVDs!


  • We move on to perhaps Chaplin’s best known works: his later shorts and feature films on DVD
  • These iconic movies form the bedrock of the Little Tramp’s enduring fame and popularity
  • They’re the perfect entrée to not only Chaplin, but all of silent cinema

This is part of a series covering Chaplin’s life and career. If you’ve landed directly on this page, I strongly recommend you start from the Part 1 introduction.

Jackie Coogan and Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921), blue tint cropped

Jackie Coogan and Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921)


Contents


First National, United Artists and Attica-Archway

Firstly, let’s deal with the DVDs; we’ll cover Blu-rays in Part 8. One of the best and most cost-effective ways to acquire Chaplin’s entire official, restored 1918–1957 output in almost one fell swoop is via The Chaplin Collection (2003, mk2/Warner) 18-disc UK box set. This is still the most comprehensive Chaplin collection ever issued and is unlikely to ever be beaten. In fact, it’s one of the most comprehensive DVD box sets issued anywhere, ever. It’s a beautifully designed item that includes a sturdy outer box, foldout Digipak cases for the discs and glossy informative booklets for every film. As if all that wasn’t enough, it’s absolutely packed to the gills with then new, yet still-unsurpassed extras featuring the world’s leading Chaplin experts, toplined by our own dear David Robinson. Most of the films are 2-disc affairs, with the film itself solely occupying the first and a second disc of goodies. Among those, the surprise star of the show was the first home video appearance of Photoplay Productions’ 1993 reconstruction of The Gold Rush (1925), in its original – and by far best – silent incarnation. As an added bonus, every short and feature has audio in a choice of original 2.0 mono or excellently remixed 5.1 surround. This collection is near-perfect[1] and hasn’t come close to being equalled by subsequent DVD reissues. In fact, the transfers and extras created for this set have formed the basis for almost every official release since. Note that as with all official Chaplin releases worldwide, original English intertitles are retained, with optional foreign subtitles as appropriate. This also applies to the audio of their mostly English language extras; only the menus and packaging are translated.

The Chaplin Collection UK mk2/Warner DVD box set

UK mk2/Warner DVD box set

Although several countries had previously released authorised Chaplin DVDs, they were all outflanked by these editions – with one notable exceptionThe Chaplin Collection was only ever issued in its entirety in the US, UK, France, Germany, Australia and Japan. Italy and Spain got most, but not all, of the mk2/Warner DVDs issued individually.

More recent non-US licensees of the Chaplin features worldwide (the UK’s Park Circus[2], Germany’s Kinowelt, etc.) have reissued the same transfers as single discs in more basic packaging, also discarding the booklets and many of the extras. Artificial Eye are the UK licensees since 2015 and have released their own excellent versions of Chaplin’s features.

Criterion, the current licensees of Chaplin in the US, are slowly reissuing the films in their own expensive but very high quality editions. So far they’ve released around two thirds of them. For more info, see: Charting Charlie Chaplin on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD.

The UK mk2/Warner box was later reissued twice: Firstly, the same 18 discs were repackaged in a slimmer box with slimline plastic DVD cases. They were shorn of the booklets and fancy Digipak sleeves but that edition is still worth picking up if you can get it cheaply enough. To avoid disappointment, just be careful to check which version you’re buying. Secondly, it was split into two similar-looking sets titled, appropriately enough, Volume One and Two. However, these had only 11 discs between them with no extras; avoid.

In Germany The Chaplin Collection was only issued as three separate box sets. Between them they contain everything except, strangely, the separately-issued Monsieur Verdoux (1947). The original French mk2/Warner box is a 17-disc affair. This time it loses the separately-issued documentary, Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (Charles Chaplin: L’Homme et l’artiste, 2003). Additionally, the lucky French later had two near-equivalent reissue box sets. In the US the mk2/Warner DVDs were also only issued as two separate boxes, Volumes One and Two. Between them they contain a total of 20 discs, as The Chaplin Revue was included in the second set. Having said all that, there are additional issues with the US discs’ transfers, so they should be avoided if possible.[3] Japan’s take on the collection was again released in two volumes, this time titled Love Chaplin! Collectors’ Edition Box 1 and Box 2, with a total of 18 discs.

The US, French and German box sets are generally very expensive nowadays. Even after importing, the UK edition usually remains the cheapest option, wherever you live.

Charlie Chaplin Coffret Prestige Limitée et Numérotée French mk2/Warner DVD box set

Coffret Prestige Limitée et Numérotée French box set

The mk2/Warner DVDs have been relabelled and repackaged several times, particularly in France, the home of Association Chaplin and where the collection was produced. The most significant example is the Coffret Prestige Limitée et Numérotée (19 discs, including The Chaplin Revue). It’s a prestigious affair indeed, with various exclusives including a large hardback book, Best Chaplin (2007, also available separately in paperback), and 20 enveloped art cards and postcards, both of which fit in an attractive cut-out slipcase. That’s not all: there’s also a CD of Chaplin’s songs, sung by himself and others, and five reproduction theatrical posters. Phew.

July 2018 update: Here’s a great article and video concerning the origin and fate of The Professor, an unreleased film conceived while Chaplin was under contract at First National.


The Chaplin Revue (1959)

For some reason The Chaplin Revue, a 1959 reissue compilation of three First National shorts, was only ever released separately in most countries by mk2/Warner, some time after the box sets. Its two discs also contain the remaining First National shorts and copious extras. Sadly, in the UKSpain and Japan it was packaged in a regular DVD keepcase with no booklet. The USItalianGerman and French Revue DVDs came in the same elaborate foldout Digipak sleeve as the other films, though again sans a booklet. Sadder still, all used older transfers for the non-Revue shorts; these were redone and much improved a few years later. It also has the mastering fault inherent in the whole mk2/Warner Collection.

In this case, as the UK mk2/Warner and Park Circus sets have the same extras, transfer-wise you’d be better off with the latter or any other 2-disc, post-2003 issue. The more recent single-disc Artificial Eye Revue, while excellent, splits three of the remaining shorts off onto some of their other Chaplin discs. As long as you get the AE Collection BD or DVD box set, you’ll still have all the First National shorts.

The Chaplin Revue (1959) US DVD (mk2-Warner)

US mk2/Warner DVD


The best of the rest

There are various more recent DVD box sets and while they don’t feature the lavish packaging and booklets of the Mk2/Warner Collection DVDs, nor do they have their common mastering fault. There are just three other more or less complete extras-packed Euro releases available. Charlie Chaplin: The Collection (2011) from Park Circus is a good bet and features all the main extras from the mk2/Warner DVDs. However, it’s becoming increasingly scarce, especially outside of the UK. Artificial Eye’s more recent UK Charlie Chaplin Collection (2015) is your cheapest option but missing out on the essential original silent version of The Gold Rush. For that you’ll need this or preferably this. But the best latterday box set by far is The French Charles Chaplin: L’intégrale des films (2015, mk2/Potemkine) with its 18 discs, including A Countess from Hong Kong and the silent Gold Rush, all stored in the cardboard leaves of a large hardback book, itself housed in a sturdy slipcase.

Charles Chaplin: L'intégrale des films French mk2-/Potemkine DVD box set

There are other ‘complete’ box sets available but they’re all vanilla, film-only discs devoid of extras, save perhaps a solitary trailer. Also, none have the original Gold Rush and some omit The Chaplin Revue. Examples of these include Raccolta (Italy), Le cinéma de Charles Chaplin (France, reissue), Obras maestras One/Two/Complete (Spain), Collection Chaplin (Holland, reissue), Brazil, Mexico and Classic Collection (India).


US Image Entertainment DVDs

At this point a very honourable mention must go to the first Association Chaplin-sanctioned, US (Image Entertainment/CBS-Fox) DVDs of all his 1918–1957 output.

The Kid (1921), US (Image/CBS-Fox) DVD

US Image/CBS-Fox DVD

These followed Image’s first ever high quality releases of the Essanay and Mutual films and were again supervised by David Shepard. They were released in 2000 but quickly deleted, to be replaced by the 2003 mk2/Warner issues. They’re packaged in beautiful, glossy foldout card sleeves with original poster cover art, copious images and liner notes. Though most are relatively light on (mostly unique) extras, they’re essential for diehard completists as, with the exception of the 1942 recut[4] of The Gold Rush (1925), they contain completely uncut and speed-corrected versions of all the shorts and features. In many respects these discs also feature a superior image to all subsequent DVD issues, with finer greyscale and more information in the frame. As with Image’s Essanay and Mutual DVDs they’re all region 0 (despite the sleeves stating R1) and will play anywhere in the world.

10 DVDs were issued in total: A First National Collection; The Kid/A Dog’s LifeThe Gold RushThe CircusCity LightsModern TimesThe Great DictatorMonsieur VerdouxLimelight and A King in New York/A Woman of Paris. Four of them (Gold/City/Modern/Dictator) were also collected in a box set. For years they were very rare and incredibly expensive; real collectors’ items. However, these are coming back onto the market again and are now at their lowest ever prices, thanks to so many people offloading DVDs in favour of online viewing or (edited) Chaplin BDs.

The same transfers also appeared elsewhere, including on two sets of short-lived French DVDs. The first batch were issued in 2000 via GCTHV (Gaumont/Columbia TriStar Home Video). Also collected in a box set, they were deleted and reissued the following year by Opening. Those in turn were themselves quickly deleted in favour of the 2003 mk2/Warner DVDs. Both the former sets’ discs also included one Mutual short apiece and some minor text-based extras. As compared to the US Image discs, these French ones are all slightly inferior NTSC–PAL conversions; the exact opposite of the compromised US mk2/Warner DVDs. At least six of these transfers were issued in Italy as 2on1 DVDs: Volume 1, 2 and 3, and a separate seventh, Monsieur Verdoux (Warner 2001). Germany too, got Gold, City, Modern, Dictator, Limelight and King (Kinowelt 1999–2000). They were also issued complete in Japan, via the Chaplin Collection Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2000 Pioneer) and separately, with NTSC transfers equal to the US discs.

Other than these particular DVDs, the original versions of Chaplin’s films haven’t been issued on disc anywhere before or since. If you’re a true fan, grab ’em!


Italy Cineteca di Bologna DVDs

Though at only five films so far it’s hardly a complete run, I’ll give a special mention to these completely bilingual (English and Italian) 2-DVD sets from 2015–2017. The Kid, The Gold Rush (silent version), City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator are part of the Cineteca di Bologna’s DVD Con libro series. Each is accompanied by a paperback book with 70-odd pages stuffed with rare images and new essays by leading Chaplin scholars. Their generous extras are a mixture of some going back to 2003 and the mk2/warner DVDs, and some new, specially produced exclusives. They all feature the latest restorations and have various unique surprises, like the fact Kid, Gold and Modern have new orchestral scores conducted by Timothy Brock.

December 2017: mk3/Potemkine in France have produced similarly highly-specced DVDs and BDs of The Kid, The Gold Rush and Modern Times. BUT they have a lot of French-only content, including their books, and all English-language content, including the features themselves, has forced French subtitles.


A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)

Chaplin released his final film, A Countess from Hong Kong, for Universal. It was his only film in colour and widescreen, and stars Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren, with support from Tippi Hedren and Chaplin’s son, Sydney. Chaplin senior only appears in a brief, seconds-long cameo as a seasick steward.

A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) US DVD

US DVD

Countess has been released on good quality anamorphic (widescreen-enhanced) DVDs in the US (individually or as part of the Marlon Brando 4-Movie Collection), Italy, GermanyFrance (including a special edition), Spain, Benelux, the Czech RepublicTurkeyMexico and Japan.

Most recently though, she’s been remastered and re-released in Italy and France. The Italian BD and DVD have optional English and Italian-dubbed audio and subtitles, while the French BD/DVD set and separate DVD offer English or French-dubbed audio and optional French subs.

All the above are to be favoured over the incorrectly transferred UK and Australian DVDs, which are open matte, in the 4:3 aspect ratio. Countess was shot and shown theatrically in widescreen; any other presentation ruins the compositions Chaplin and his cinematographer, Arthur Ibbetson, composed so carefully.


To reiterate: the terrible quality public domain sets I warned about contain shorts and features from Chaplin’s Keystone, Essanay, Mutual and First National years; basically everything he did before A Woman of Paris (1923). You’ll be fine wherever you are, as long as you avoid them and stick to the official, Association Chaplin-sanctioned DVDs (mk2/Warner, Artificial Eye, Criterion, etc.).


Notes

[1] The mk2/Warner Collection DVDs have a mastering error: they automatically zoom in to full width on widescreen displays, cropping the top and bottom off the image. This necessitates adjusting the aspect ratio settings of the player and display to 4:3, which will show the whole image correctly. Though this is usually a rare problem and introduced at the DVD authoring stage, strangely it appears to affect all sets worldwide. The only disc unaffected is the American-made Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin documentary. Note that all mk2/Warner DVDs play fine when viewed on any 4:3 standard aspect ratio display, or any widescreen display using analogue connections.

Also, all official non-mk2/Warner releases, commencing from the late 2000s onwards, have improved transfers of the four non-Revue First National shorts. Even more recent, post-2010 releases of some of Chaplin’s other films, from US Criterion, Italy Cineteca di Bologna and France mk2/Potemkine also have newly restored transfers of the main feature.

[2] Every feature in The Chaplin Collection (mk2/Warner) DVDs from The Kid onwards had its own Chaplin Today documentary except for The Great Dictator (1940). One was made but inexplicably omitted. Chaplin Today: The Great Dictator finally surfaced on the Park Circus DVD and the Artificial Eye BD and DVD, making it the main extra exclusive to post-2003 releases. They’ve all appeared on many reissues since and have been uploaded on the official Chaplin YouTube channel.

[3] The US Chaplin Collection region 1 DVDs are deficient in one very important regard: the discs were made using unconverted European (PAL) masters, as opposed to native US (NTSC) masters. It creates issues when mastering directly from NTSC-PAL or vice versa. In short, this means such DVDs suffer from unnecessary blurring or ‘ghosting’ of the image, especially noticeable whenever there is any rapid movement. At worst it looks like this famous deliberate example of the effect. On the Chaplin discs it’s more moderate than that, but once you’re aware of the problem you can’t unsee it. Mastering them that way was a cost-cutting measure by Warners and meant that US and Canadian customers were badly short-changed. If you live in either of those countries and are able to play PAL discs it’s worthwhile importing the higher quality European DVDs. The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin documentary is unaffected, as it was US-made and natively mastered in NTSC. Unfortunately, Kino and Flicker Alley in the US also adopt the same practice for their PAL master-sourced DVDs. This problem almost never affects BDs, though it may do their PAL or NTSC standard definition extras.

[4] There’s a reason for the generally less well-regarded 1942 re-edited version being continually favoured over the restored original 1925 version: In later life Chaplin recut all his post-1918 silent shorts and features for reissue, creating new synchronised scores and removing material that he now felt was politically incorrect, overly sentimental or slightly embarrassing (eg. The religious overtones in The Kid and The Gold Rush’s ending kiss). He also cut several of his sound films after their initial premières. His surviving children who run Association Chaplin have decided that these final “Daddy” versions are the definitive ones. Consequently they’re the only versions in wide circulation. I’ll write about this in more detail in future.


See DVDCompare and Caps-a-holic for more in-depth details and useful screenshot comparisons for many of the discs mentioned.


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