Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 8

1918–1967 Shorts and Features in HD

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

  • Concluding this definitive overview of the silent movie icon’s career
  • This time it’s the Chaplin-copyrighted versions of his feature films on Blu-ray and DVD
  • There are several very different options for those building a complete collection

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

Modern Times (1936, Charlie Chaplin) poster by Pete Lloyd, 2015

Modern Times (1936) poster by Pete Lloyd, 2015

The Little Tramp’s biggest films in high definition

Is it worthwhile buying century-old Chaplin films on Blu-ray? You betcha! His restored features all look great on DVD but their quality improves immensely when rendered in HD video, coupled with lossless audio. You’ll see the difference on even the most modest display but the larger your screen, the more apparent the improvement. They make the leap from looking like very good quality video to actually appearing filmlike. Especially when allied to a decent audio set-up, you get a vivid sense of what early audiences must have experienced when watching them for the very first time – if not better, technically speaking. Now for some good news: if you own The Chaplin Collection (mk2/Warner) box set or any other 1918–1957 DVD sets, you can upgrade all the features themselves to HD in one fell swoop:

Charlie Chaplin Collection (Soul Media) Danish Blu-ray set (keepcase version)

Danish Soul Media set (keepcase version)

This Charlie Chaplin Collection (a different one from several previous, identically named DVD sets; confusing, I know!) contains officially-licensed transfers and is from Soul Media, Denmark. It was initially released in 2013 in a compact plastic keepcase and later issued in a fancy cardboard box. In addition to the original English intertitles, it contains optional Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles. The set’s 10 discs are region B-locked and each contains the film only, as per their Park Circus equivalents. Almost all have lossless audio in original PCM 2.0 mono or remixed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. For some reason though, A Woman of Paris, Monsieur Verdoux and A King in New York only have the mono. This is still almost the only way to acquire several of these films in HD anywhere!

If you do pick up the Soul Media set, the only feature you’ll then be missing in HD is the reconstructed 1925 silent version of The Gold Rush. You’ll find it in standard definition on the second disc of any of the 2-DVD mk2/Warner issues and the UK’s Park Circus DVD. The Park Circus BD/DVD set has it in the DVD-only extras. Note that except for Japan (see below), all non-US BDs only contain the 1942 re-edited version.

October 2017 update: Soul Media’s set has already been deleted and is increasingly difficult to find. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on a copy, great; otherwise, go for the Artificial Eye set below.

Charlie Chaplin Collection (Soul Media) Danish Blu-ray set (box version)

Danish Soul Media set (keepcase version)

If you’re buying Chaplin’s 1918–1957 films in HD without owning any prior DVDs, easily your best bet is The Charlie Chaplin Collection (Yet another ‘Collection’ – aaargh! Can’t they think of any other titles?) from the UK’s Artificial Eye. It’s region B-locked and contains the same HD transfers and extras as all the previous Euro BDs and DVDs. Of course, this means that it’s again missing the essential 1925 original Gold Rush in HD. In fact it’s missing that version altogether – a major omission – so again you’ll need this or this disc for it. So complicated. Only The Gold Rush, The Circus and Limelight have the additional remixed audio. What it does have though is The Chaplin Revue, alongside the rest of the First National shorts in HD – for the first time anywhere. This really is a fantastic set and I can recommend it unhesitatingly, with the aforesaid caveats. You can read my full review here.

The Charlie Chaplin Collection (Artificial Eye) UK Blu-ray box set

UK Artificial Eye box set

Rounding up the rest of the Euro BDs: like the Soul Media discs and Warner/mk2 DVDs before them, they’re mostly single-layer and vanilla, with the film and subtitles only, and any standard definition extras housed on a second DVD. Also like Soul Media, not all port over the remixed surround audio done for the 2003 DVDs.

  • UK: Park Circus stalled at seven BDs, omitting RevueA Woman of Paris, Monsieur Verdoux and A King in New York, but at least all retained the remixed audio. Be aware there are issues with their edition of The Kid.[1]
  • France’s mk2 have released 10 BDs (omitting Revue), some of which were boxed together, in both 5-BD and 5-BD/5DVD editions. Only WomanVerdoux and King have remixed audio. The first two have it in lossy Dolby Digital, with a second DVD of extras, while King has both tracks in lossless DTS-HD MA and all extras on-disc.
  • Germany’s Kinowelt sputtered to a halt after five BDs, none with remixed audio, but they do have all extras on-disc.
  • Spain, surprisingly, has seen only three Chaplin BDs so far, with none having remixed audio. Originally issued in 2010, they were repackaged and reissued in 2013, in single disc or BD/DVD sets:
  • Italy fares even worse: there, only “Il Grande Dittatore” has sneaked out in HD. I guess Jack Oakie’s Mussolini-spoofing helped. It has both original and remixed audio, though only the third option, a mono Italian dub, has lossless DTS-HD MA. Extras are on-disc.

As with the DVDs, there are various other worldwide BDs, but they’re almost all vanilla discs. One exception is Japan’s fine 13-BD Charlie Chaplin Blu-ray Box (2016, Kadokawa). It’s packed with English-friendly extras and contains only the second HD release of The Chaplin Revue and First National shorts. In addition, The Gold Rush disc includes the silent version, albeit only in SD. Although the set’s 12 film discs are also available separately, its exclusive 13th disc marks the only physical release anywhere of Chaplin: The Legend of the Century (2014), a French feature length documentary much in the vein of Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin (2003).

Charlie Chaplin Blu-ray Box set by Kadokawa, Japan

Japan Kadokawa box set

Currently the only way to get the original 1925 version of The Gold Rush on-disc in HD is on its US region A-locked Criterion BD (also on Amazon Video US | UK, etc). Unfortunately it loses Neil Brand’s lovely, intimate piano accompaniment but does gain Timothy Brock’s magnificent new orchestral score, based on the music Chaplin composed for the 1942 reissue. It’s such a shame both couldn’t have been included: they make great counterpoints to each other for alternate viewings. As I already said, Criterion are in the process of releasing Chaplin’s features individually. As well as containing many new and exclusive extras, several of them have much-improved transfers, especially in the case of The Kid (1921) and City Lights (1931).

Criterion's The Gold Rush Blu-ray

That leaves Chaplin’s final film, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). It was made for Universal, so doesn’t appear on any of the foregoing collections featuring Association Chaplin-controlled material. It’s only available in HD on a vanilla Italian BD and French BD/DVD combo. The latter has a few French-language extras, while both releases have optional dubs in their respective languages and are coded for region B.

A Countess from Hong Kong (1967, Charlie Chaplin) Italian Cult Media Blu-ray

A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) Italian Cult Media BD

I hope you find this guide useful and informative. It’s the distillation of years of collecting, reviewing and research. Along the way I’ve found some great bargains and made one or two costly mistakes; hopefully now you can avoid the latter… Happy viewing!

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

[1] Due to faulty mastering, the Park Circus BD of The Kid stutters at frequent intervals for a second or so, before continuing to play. It’s quite distracting and akin to the effect you’d get with a stuck record or CD. Here are the first four examples:

  • 01.45: as the gates are locked behind Edna Purviance and she walks away from the charity hospital.
  • 02.40: as the artist turns to talk to his friend, after Edna’s photo has fallen in the fire.
  • 03.22: as Edna is placing her baby in the back of the car.
  • 06.30: as Charlie is bending down to pick up the baby.

On other Euro BDs this problem is almost entirely absent. In fact, it’s only detectable a few times and even then only under very close scrutiny.

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