Three Chaplin silent comedies "A Dog's Life", "Shoulder Arms", and "The Pilgrim" are strung together to form a single feature length film. Chaplin provides new music, narration, and a small...
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Charlie works on a farm from 4am to late at night. He gets his food on the run (milking a cow into his coffee, holding an chicken over the frying pan to get fried eggs). He loves the ... See full summary »
Olive Ann Alcorn
Three Chaplin silent comedies "A Dog's Life", "Shoulder Arms", and "The Pilgrim" are strung together to form a single feature length film. Chaplin provides new music, narration, and a small amount of new connecting material. "Shoulder Arms" is now described as taking place in a time before "the atom bomb". Written by
Three classic comedies, available again after a long hibernation
In the late 1940s there was a short film series entitled "Flicker Flashbacks," in which excerpts from silent dramas featuring the likes of Mary Pickford and Blanche Sweet were played for laughs. Scratchy clips from antiquated old movies were rearranged, projected too fast, and given an overlay of jangly music and lame quips. The attitude expressed through this brutal treatment pretty much summed up mid-century Hollywood's view of its early days: silent cinema was considered hokey, florid, a little embarrassing, and only good for a chuckle. During the 1950s this attitude gradually began to change for a number of reasons. James Agee's famous 1949 essay on the silent clowns for Life Magazine was a factor, but television played a major role in reacquainting viewers with silent movies. Admittedly, the TV networks sometimes handled the material almost as crudely as the "Flicker Flashbacks" people, but high-toned series such as "Silents, Please" treated the films with respect. Another milestone was Robert Youngson's compilation feature The Golden Age of Comedy, which proved to be something of a surprise hit when it was released to theaters late in 1957.
I don't know if Charles Chaplin was aware of Youngson's film or its success at the box office, but it was around this time that he decided to launch a theatrical re-release of three of his best short comedies, A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms (both made in 1918), and The Pilgrim (made in 1922 and released the following year). These three movies happened to work well as a trio since they contrast nicely in plot, theme, and setting. In addition, all three offer familiar faces from Chaplin's stock company, some of whom play multiple roles in each short. At the time of the re-release the films hadn't been publicly screened in many years, so perhaps Chaplin might also have been concerned about maintaining his reputation with a new generation of movie-goers, especially since his best work was seldom shown on television in the new medium's early days.
Unfortunately, Chaplin apparently concluded that the films moved too quickly at the old silent projection speed, so he made the decision to "stretch-print" them, which meant that every other frame was printed twice. Maybe he wanted to avoid the 'Flicker Flashbacks' look, but from posterity's point of view this wasn't the best way to go about it. Aesthetically speaking, the results were awful and practically destroyed the movies' flow of action. Nonetheless, that's how The Chaplin Revue was released to theaters in 1959, and that's the version that was transferred to video and made commercially available by Playhouse Video in the 1980s. I purchased a VHS copy of the movie at the time, and was terribly disappointed with the jerky, stop-and-start rhythm of the films.
It's a relief to find that David Shepard's restoration of Chaplin's compilation (originally produced for the laser-disc format) is an improvement over the Playhouse Video version. The "stretch-printing" has been modified, though not entirely, and the action does seem to lag a bit at times. For example: in A Dog's Life during Edna and Charlie's awkward dance in the Green Lantern Café, Edna's bare arms appear visibly blurred; at another point, during the trench scene in Shoulder Arms when Charlie is relieved from sentry duty, the action appears oddly slowed-down for a few moments, although this may be the result of a maneuver by the film restorers to cover a bit of decomposition. Over all, picture quality is fantastic considering the age of the movies themselves.
Other bonuses: The Revue begins with rare behind-the-scenes footage taken at the Chaplin studio. This includes shots of an obviously staged, jokey rehearsal session where Chaplin throttles diminutive actor Loyal Underwood, as well as scenes of Charlie at his dressing table putting on his makeup and trimming the famous mustache. These scenes are accompanied by Chaplin's narration, delivered at a rapid clip. Chaplin also composed a new musical score for the compilation, and I feel his themes for The Revue rank with his best compositions, especially the pieces used during the café sequence in A Dog's Life. The one exception, in my opinion, is the song written for The Pilgrim, a pseudo Singin' Cowboy number called "Bound for Texas," sung 1950s style by Matt Monro (sounding rather like Gene Autry), which is distractingly anachronistic and out of place. Otherwise, throughout the rest of The Revue, the music is perfectly suited to the action and the atmosphere.
The Image release of The Chaplin Revue is, in a sense, its long postponed debut, presenting these classic comedies in a more watchable and enjoyable form than what audiences saw in 1959 -- though still not, it should be added, the best possible version. Here's hoping that a newly restored edition might some day present these films the way they should be seen.
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