Why is it that some of us are drawn to budget-priced videos? Is it the lure of getting just another disc cheaply? Or is it the hope that we can fill out a collection with something that is more than just barely watchable? Purchasing a budget DVD is always a toss of the dice. Much of the time the consumer craps out. Most of these discs feature video transfers taken from 16mm reduction prints of public domain films. Most of the time the resulting quality is tolerable to downright bad.
Since the producers of these Charles Chaplin films were spotty copyright registerers at best, and the rights to the films passed from one holding company to another in the 1920s and 1930s, low-budget distributors have copied and reissued Chaplin’s early work from about 1917 onward. The result is that many of the surviving prints of these films are second-generation 35mm duplicates at best to fourth-generation 8mm reduction prints at their worst. — Carl Bennett
1999 DVD edition
Chaplin: Collector’s Choice Double Feature (1914-1918), black & white, 91 minutes total, not rated,
including Cruel, Cruel Love (1914), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, A Film Johnny [A Film Johnnie](1914), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, Triple Trouble (1918), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, The Good-For-Nothing [originally His New Profession] (1914), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, Charlie’s Recreation [originally Tango Tangles] (1914), black & white, ? minutes, not rated, and Work (1915), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.
Madacy Entertainment Group, DVD9 9103, UPC 0-56775-03619-5.
One double-sided, single-layered, Region 1NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 3 Mbps average video bit rate, 448 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 16 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $11.98.
Release date: 2 March 1999.
Country of origin: USA
Easily, the worst-looking film in this collection is A Film Johnnie, taken from what appears to be a very blurry and contrasty 8mm reduction print. The print has a new main title but features intertitles from a silent era reissue print, probably from the early 1920s. The print and/or the transfer is over-cropped on the left side of the picture and will make reading titles difficult on some television screens. Is it watchable? That will depend on your tolerance level. I find it almost unwatchable and would never show the print to casual viewers.
The remainder of the films are of passible quality. Both The Good-For-Nothing (His New Profession) and Charlie’s Recreation (Tango Tangles) originate from 1917 reissue prints prepared by the previous owners of the Keystone Film Corp. The probability that these films were reedited before their rerelease is generally accepted. All of the films reissued by W.H. Productions in 1917 were reedited and featured new intertitles. His New Profession has been over-cropped on the top and left sides of the picture. Tango Tangles has been over-cropped on all sides of the frame equally. Both 16mm reduction prints are good at best, holding a passable amount of detail and generally maintaining a good picture tonal range.
Cruel, Cruel Love (1914) is highly-speckled, indicating either a very dirty negative at the time the print was made or emulsion flaking or decomposition on the print itself. The intertitles are new in this otherwise watchable 16mm print.
Triple Trouble (1918) was an ersatz Chaplin short released in 1918, cobbled together by actor Leo White on instructions from the owners of Essanay. White constructed a new story and shot new footage to bridge scenes that Chaplin had not completed when he left Essanay in 1916. Again, the print is a passable 16mm version of the film with new intertitles.
The last film is Work (1915), from the Essanay years. The print has good tonal range and is a little tightly-cropped all around the frame. This reissue print may date to the 1950s or 1960s and features modern narration of the action on the soundtrack.
These last two films look far better on the Chaplin Essanay films DVDs released in September 1999. [Review of Essanay 1, Essanay 2.]
Overall, the films on this disc will tax the patience of the discriminating collector. However, in the case of the Keystone productions, this may (for the time being) be the best way for the silent comedy enthusiast to collect these films. We do not recommend this disc for anyone but the collecting completist.
The same DVD program was also issued under a different title and on two discs, with a slipcase wraparound, as Chaplin: Hollywood Classics. That DVD set is identical in programming to the DVD reviewed. The same program was also released in February 1999 as individual DVDs entitled Chaplin: The Collection, Volume 1 and Chaplin: The Collection, Volume 2 (both titles out-of-print). These discs were also offered in a box set, entitled Chaplin: The Collection, with three other DVDs that are not reviewed here.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.