The Chaplin Revue

***

Reviewed by: James Benefield

A Dog's Life
"It's definitely a fit of nostalgia for better days, at least artistically, and it's still a joy to see these shorts put into a form which is more accessible for latter day audiences."

The Chaplin Revue consists of three silent films, cobbled with a new soundtrack by Charlie Chaplin himself in 1959 – decades after they were first shown to audiences. Definitely a fit of nostalgia for better days, at least artistically, it was, and still is, still a joy to see these shorts put into a form which is more accessible for latter day audiences.

The first one, A Dog's Life, is great fun despite the misfortune of peaking too early. Starring as the little tramp, Chaplin is discovered sleeping on the streets, and stealing food through a fence, by a bobby on the beat. The resulting struggle, in which the tramp tries to evade the policeman's grasp, is energetically executed into a veritable ballet of physical comedy. The scene should really rank with the tramp's finest moments. In a touching development, the tramp then goes onward to gain a pet. The dog is less a friend and more an accomplice in the tramp's daily struggle to live, and this extra pair of paws helps him to gain sympathy, food and the attention of a saloon singer. It's a swift 30 minutes.

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Shoulder Arms is a longer piece – running to about 40 minutes. Set in the trenches during the First World War, the tone veers between light slapstick and the melancholy. Chaplin stars as a physically awkward, but nevertheless gung-ho, recruit. To its credit, the comic set pieces cleverly avoid bad taste and cloying naivete with the potentially quite dangerous subject matter and setting. One memorable sequence involves Chaplin disguised as a gnarly old tree – in which he achieves more success defeating the enemy than he, or anyone we see, achieves as a 'regular' soldier. A goofy foray into satire then, but one that he'd perfect later with The Great Dictator.

The revue then goes straight into The Pilgrim. The most recent film in the bill, it was made after Chaplin's first feature The Kid. Presented here in a truncated version (there is a version of about an hour – this one is only about 40 minutes) and with a soundtrack featuring Fifties warbler Matt Monroe, it's also the most consistent of the three. Chaplin plays the eponymous character, a villain on the run who has disguised himself as a man of the cloth. He's the world's least believable criminal – charming, naïve, barely competent at anything he tries and entirely transparent. But thankfully this is the kind of comedy this matters not a jot, and the results are both frequently hilarious and, occasionally, borderline iconoclastic.

Too brilliant to be a curate's egg but too inconsistent to be entirely brilliant, The Chaplin Revue is nevertheless essential for fans of the silent great.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2011
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Three short, silent Charlie Chaplin comedies - A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms and The Pilgrim - in a restored edition with new music.
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Director: Charlie Chaplin

Writer: Charlie Chaplin

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Albert Austin, Syd Chaplin

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

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