Chaplin’s 15 Essanay Comedies, Blu-ray (1915/2015)

by | Dec 8, 2015 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Chaplin’s 15 Essanay Comedies, Blu-ray (1915/2015)

Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Ben Turpin, others
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Video: 4:3 1080p B&W restored (for Blu-ray)
Audio: PCM stereo (new music scores for each film)
Studio: Essanay/Lobster/Blackhawk Films/Cineteca Bolgna/ Flicker Alley FA0044 (11/17/15) (2 Blu-ray discs, 3 DVDs)
Original intertitles
Films: His New Job, A Night Out, The Champion, In the Park, A Jitney Elopement, The Tramp, By the Sea, His Regeneration, Work, A Woman, The Bank, Shanghaied, A Night in the Show, Charlie Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen, and Police. 
Extras: 2 bonus films: Triple Trouble, Charlie Butts In, 28p. illustrated booklet with beind-the-scenes photos and essay by film historian and author Jeffrey Vance
Length: 405 min.
Rating: ****1/2

These 14 shorts for Essanay Film Manufacturing Company were actually a sort of experiment to add various elements to his famous Little Tramp character, which were later immortalized in films like City Lights and Modern Times. The 15th – Triple Trouble – was edited together from outtakes and various Chaplin footage by Essanay without Chaplin’s involvement. There is also a one-reel bonus – Charlie Butts In – which was assembled from alternate takes of A Night Out. This is the third and final installment of the Chaplin Project, which was a 12-year endeavor (led by the middle three of the Studio: credit above) to restore all of Chaplin’s films from 1914 to 1917.

The sources came from archives and collections all over the world and have been beautifullly restored digitally, often incorporating the intertitles from later 16mm home versions. There are a few shots where vertical lines interfere a bit, but they are infrequent. Alll have scores on the stereo soundtrack created by some of the foremost composers and musicians of silent film accompaniment, so this is usually a step up from the original use of categorized sheet music. While solo piano is a standard, some have an entire orchestra. But watching them perfectly silently, without the accompaning soundtrack, is also a good experience. Both A Night Out and Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen have been restored to conform to Chaplin’s original intensions, and the never-before-seen restoration of Police includes a new improved final shot. It’s quite interesting how the sense of the Bizet opera Carmen is conveyed in the silent film, and at the very end “Don Hosiery” actually does stab Carmen to death, so at that point it becomes less of a comedy.

There are a total of five discs in this set: three DVDs and two Blu-rays (because even with the 50GB maximum of standard Blu-rays all 15 films didn’t fit on just one Blu-ray disc). The release of this set is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the films, and for those of us who have seen in the past some of these films in terrible versions distributed in 8mm and 16mm (and usually well worn), the lovely restorations in this set will be a wonderful experience. The digital restoration gives a uniform look to all the films, which is much appreciated. The great detail of all the images makes the 15 films look much like what they must have looked like a century ago.

—John Sunier

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