If you already own the 90th Anniversary DVD set and are wondering if it is worth the upgrade to this edition, IT IS! Each film has upgrades varying from modest to major. See individual titles below for details.
I wanted to clear up a few things some reviewers have issues with. THIS IS MORE THAN A 5 STAR SET!
a) The Blu-rays are NOT widow-boxed.
b) The sound effects & music are performed LIVE as they would have been in a hollywood theater in 1913, so it would not be perfectly synced.
c) Since no original title cards survive today, nobody knows what they would have looked like. So plain blank cards with white letters were created. All previous DVD releases used title-cards from various re-issues.
d) The film speed feels correct. These are not knock-about Keystone comedies, they are more thoughtful Mutual comedies that rely on Chaplin's subtle expressions to convey the humor.
I may sound like I am repeating myself when I talk about all of the improvements over the previous 90th Anniversary DVD, but much searching through archives has turned up superior film masters for this new HD release.
We are getting very close to seeing these as Chaplin meant us to see them back in 1916 & 1917.
Blu-ray disc 1
1) THE FLOORWALKER (29:19) The improvement I could see here is the sharper image on the new 2013 HD transfer for this Blu-ray release. I would love to do a split-screen running the two releases side by side, but I can't do that right now.
- Chaplin's first short for Mutual is pure slapstick fun in a department store. Villainous store manager tries to frame innocent Charlie for the money that he stole.
2) THE FIREMAN (26:24) Right from the start NEWLY FOUND FOOTAGE can be seen in this new release. First an introductory card is restored informing us that the "Captain Calls The Fire Drill". We then see a shot of Eric Campbell thinking, looking at the fire bell, then getting an idea. This is all missing from the previous DVD release, that version fades up as Eric is walking over to the fire bell. Later another descriptive card is restored informing us that the sleeping Chaplin is the driver, we don't know this in the previous DVD. I could go on & on, but you get the idea: more footage & cards have been restored. The image on the new Blu-ray is much sharper.
- Another knock-down hilarious slapstick comedy reminiscent of the Keystone & Essanay films.
3) THE VAGABOND (26:37) Big improvement here! The older DVDs came from a sound re-issue print that cropped off the left side of the picture to add the soundtrack. This new transfer comes from a newly discovered full aperture silent print. In addition to more picture on the left side, we have a sharper image on this new 2013 HD transfer for Blu-ray.
- Chaplin's delves into more drama with this film, not to say there aren't any laughs.
4) ONE AM (27:22) Fully restored from a pristine sharp 35mm print, includes the 7 minutes found in 2006. This version looks like it was filmed yesterday!
- This is almost a 1-man show displaying Charlie's performance perfection. His drunken character does battle with the objects in his house in an attempt to go to bed. This is one of my all-time Chaplin favorites.
5) THE COUNT (25:11) Big improvement here! The older DVDs came from a sound re-issue print that cropped off the left side of the picture to add the soundtrack. This new transfer comes from a newly discovered full aperture silent print. In addition to more picture on the left side, we have a sharper image on this new 2013 HD transfer for Blu-ray. Some people may like the darker contrast of the sound print, but I find the slightly lighter silent print fully acceptable. There is also a few more frames of NEW FOOTAGE just after the title cards that got lost in the sound print (used for the old DVDs) when a fade-up was created.
6) THE PAWNSHOP (26:41) In comparing the two releases, right from the start you think you are watching different films. NEWLY FOUND FOOTAGE with the pawnshop owner waving his arms & pacing around, looking at his pocket watch and then repeating his movements is all missing from the old DVD. When we get to the first matching shot of the girl in the kitchen, each release seems to come from two different camera negatives. The old DVD cuts off the top of her head as well as heavily cutting off the right side of the picture and a little from the bottom. This new HD transfer has plenty of head room & much more image on the right side, but there is some image missing from the left side, Overall the new release framing is much more appealing, it must be the "A" Negative. After this shot of the girl in the kitchen, the framing seems to be similar. Just as Chaplin is about to enter a new title card instructs us that Chaplin is late, this appears later in the old DVD as a line of dialogue. Studio records indicate this is the correct location for the card. Again, the image is much sharper in this new HD transfer.
7) BEHIND THE SCREEN (25:23) A MAJOR IMPROVEMENT over the old 90th Anniversary DVD. The first thing I notice in the very opening shot is more picture on all four sides of the picture, the old DVD is heavily cropped. On the far left there are two ladies talking, the lady to the left is unseen on the old DVD. It is as if the image first got heavily cropped on the left side to add a soundtrack, then the top & bottom got heavily cropped to restore the aspect ratio back to 4:33-1. To top it off the old DVD lost some image on the right side in the process. The cropping varies from severe to minor on the old DVD, depending of what surviving source was used. This new HD transefr is more consistant on showing the entire image. The old DVD is also soft where this new HD transfer is sharp.
- Behind the scenes at a movie studio (I love to see these early silent studio workings) Chaplin improves upon his previous Keystone offerings "A FILM JOHNNY", and "THE PROPERTY MAN". His timing is honed to perfection here to make one enjoyable comedy. Chaplin is almost burlesquing his days at the Keystone Studios.
8) THE RINK (25:47) Another big improvement. The old DVD was mastered from a sound re-issue print that was heavily cropped on the left side to add a soundtrack. This new HD transfer comes from a silent full frame aspect ratio print. Some may have issues with the newer print being lighter than the sound re-issue print. Maybe the black levels could have been brought down a little on this new transfer, but it is not over-exposed. If you compare the loss of details in the white objects, you will find this happens on both versions, this problem seems to have occurred early in this films history, maybe some time in the 1930's. Until a camera original negative or an earlier nitrate print is found, this is the best we will have. To include any footage from the previous release because of better contrast would mean giving up image on the left side. So it is a little bit of a trade off here, a fuller frame but lighter print with more image on the left side or a heavily cropped print with better contrast. It is a matter of the source print used.
Blu-ray disc 2
9) EASY STREET (26:58) Yet another big improvement. The old DVD was mastered from a sound re-issue print that was heavily cropped on the left side to add a soundtrack. This new HD transfer comes from a silent full frame aspect ratio print. Some may have issues with the newer print being lighter than the sound re-issue print. But if you look at the interior shots of the Police Station you will see that the shadows are too dark and details are lost. The first inter-title has also been changed, based on Keystone copyright filing records.
- Charlie joins the police force of Easy Street to restore law & order to this disruptive part of town. How times have changed, gas street lamps are still in use in this short.
10) THE CURE (26:26) The big improvements keep coming. The old DVD was mastered from a sound re-issue print that was heavily cropped on the left side to add a soundtrack. This new HD transfer comes from a silent full frame aspect ratio print. Needless to say, the image is sharper with more details in the dark areas.
- A good sequel to "ONE AM" as Charlie enters a sobriety spa with a spring holding magical curing powers. He packs his wardrobe full of liquor to help him through the treatment. You'll howell as Chaplin does battle with a revolving door.
11) THE IMMIGRANT (24:58) Another big improvement. The old DVD was mastered from a sound re-issue print that was heavily cropped on the left side to add a soundtrack. This new HD transfer comes from a silent full frame aspect ratio print. Take note of the opening scene with the ship in the water. The old DVD has the ship going off screen on the left, now with this new full frame transfer the ship is perfectly centered on the screen with plenty of ocean on both sides.. The new HD transfer is over all sharper.
- A more thoughtful comedy as Charlie and Edna Purviance along with others are immigrating to the U.S. from Europe. The first half deals with their nauseating boat trip across the ocean, the second half deals with Charlie & Edna trying to afford a meal at a restaurant.
**Note: Out-takes & bloopers from "The Immigrant" with changes in the cast can be seen in the included documentary "The Birth Of The Tramp".
12) THE ADVENTURER (26:55) So much more detail has been restored to the picture it makes the old release look like a Madacey DVD (which Image has now merged with). In the opening manhunt sequence, the details in the foliage and shrubbery is amazing, the old DVD was just murky shades of grey. Now you can see every twig & branch! The old DVD also had some left-side cropped insert scenes from a sound re-issue print.
- A comedy more in the style of the Essanays. While on the run from the law, Charlie manages to rescue a drowning woman. In gratitude Charlie is brought back to their mansion where he passes himself off as a rich adventurer.
THE BIRTH OF THE TRAMP (2013) 63 minutes - Historian & film preservationist Serge Bromberg & Eric Lang co-produced this documentation of Chaplin's early period prior to becoming his own producer. Illustrated with newsreel clips & highlight moments from his films.
CHAPLN'S GOLIATH (1996) 54 minutes - A Scottish TV production celebrating who they feel is the first big Scottish movie star, Eric Campbell, known around the world as Chaplin's best villain.
SADLY MISSING is the 1975 film "The Gentleman Tramp" that featured the Chaplin home movies and some of the last film appearances of Sir Charles Chaplin at his Switzerland home. It is narrated by Walter Matthau with readings from Chaplin's "My Autobiography" by Laurence Olivier.You may find yourself keeping this separate disc from the old DVD set.
David Shepard is now busy working on a new restoration of the Chaplin Essanay Comedies!
Archivist: Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum