CHARLIE CHAPLIN: THE MUTUAL COMEDIES
Two years after breaking into the film industry in 1914, Charlie Chaplin became the highest paid entertainer in the world after signing a lucrative deal with the Mutual Film Corporation. The deal came complete with his very own studio where Mutual allowed him complete artistic freedom to make 12 two-reel films in the space of a year. Chaplin has since described those months as the most “inventive and liberating” of his career. Watching the restored HD films back to back, it’s easy to see why.
Working at a rate of one film a month, the twelve are divided across the two-disc collection, the first containing some of his most memorable and inventive works. The Floor Walker is the first film made for Mutual and is a rambunctious debut that demonstrates his effortless physicality and dancer-like movements. It’s a cod crime caper that sees detectives investigating a department store for embezzlement, and Chaplin switching identities with the dead ringer manager (Lloyd Bacon). The action is based around one brilliant set piece, the elevator, where even now Chaplin baffles with his gusto and fearlessness.
The Fireman is rib-tickling farce, loaded with some of the most explosively funny moments from the collection. That said, it doesn’t have quite the same attention to story or construction as many of the others. But crucially, it makes an unlikely hero out of Chaplin that would come to underpin many of the following films. The most obvious was The Vagabond, where his lovable Tramp took a narrative leap forward and winds up saving a girl (Edna Purviance) from a band of gypsies. But his giddy romance is rattled when a frustrated artist spies her birthmark and paints her portrait. Noticing the birthmark, her estranged mother recognises the girl and they are reunited. It balanced pathos and a pithy sentiment that came to typify much of Chaplin’s feature lengths in the years to come.
One A.M. is the most straightforward, demonstrating Chaplin’s ability to play a comic drunk with some of the best visual gags; sliding rugs and taxidermy animals have never been funnier. The Count sees more of the same, but with some great food gags it’s hard not to get won over. The Pawnshop features one of the great silent comedy sequences in which Chaplin dissects an alarm clock in a bizarre and almost surrealist scene.
The second disc has the remaining 1916 films with the satire Behind the Screen, and The Rink where Chaplin blags his way into another party. And then there’s the 1917 films, including two of his most revered, recognisable and important. Easy Street is two parts social satire to one part slapstick humour. The Immigrant, on the other hand, was a daring statement, given credence by his own immigrant status.
Through the restoration and HD sheen, and Carl Davis’ magnificent scores, Chaplin shines as both and actor and director. His impressive wit, enduring physicality, mischievous expressions and cartoonish buffoonery leave behind a solid 12-film run that were decades ahead of the curve. But it wasn’t Chaplin alone, with regulars Lloyd Bacon, Eric Campbell, Edna Purviance and Leo White getting as many laughs and standout moments for themselves. The Mutual Comedies are almost 100 years old and are still indelibly hilarious, familiar yet surprising, and a real must have.
Special Features: Audio commentaries / Alternative scores / Topical newsreel / Documentary short / Interview with Carl Davis / Illustrated booklet
INFO: CHARLIE CHAPLIN: THE MUTUAL COMEDIES / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: CHARLIE CHAPLIN / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: CHARLIE CHAPLIN, LLOYD BACON, ERIC CAMPBELL, EDNA PURVIANCE, LEO WHITE / RELEASE DATE: MAY 25TH