The Chaplin Mutuals

The Chaplin Mutuals (1916/1917)
Image Entertainment

"The Chaplin Mutuals" is a set of three discs from Image Entertainment, containing some of the master’s most memorable films. It is a beautiful, completely new remastered release that is far superior to any other incarnation of these classic comedies.

In February 1916, only two years after entering the movie industry, Charles Chaplin signed a contract with the Hollywood-based Mutual Film Corporation to produce a series of twelve short movies. This huge contract made him the highest-paid entertainer of his time and resulted in his ultimate recognition in the movie industry world-wide. Aside from the pecuniary freedom, the contract also allowed him to exercise complete control and artistic freedom over the comedies, inspiring the twenty-seven-year-old Chaplin to be as funny and daring as he could. During the next 16 months, Charles Chaplin would create twelve comedies at the breakneck speed of almost one a month. He not only starred in all these comedies, he supervised, wrote, and directed each of these classic two-reel episodes as well, showing his trulyuniversal talent as a filmmaker. In his autobiography, almost fifty years later, Chaplin looked back fondly on the challenge the "Mutuals" brought to him, stating that fulfilling the Mutual Contract was perhaps the happiest period of his career, one that nevertheless left him slightly dazzled about the prospects of the glamorous world before him.

"The Chaplin Mutuals" have to be considered his truest and most unencumbered work of all. He was still at the beginning of his long-lasting career and he had only one thing on his mind: He wanted to be the funniest person ever to be seen on film! Looking back over all those years, it is simply amazing to see how Chaplin managed to become exactly that. Chaplin had a special sense in how to handle his co-workers and stars, which can be seen and recognized in literally any scene of any of his works. Only the dedication of his co-stars on screen allowed him to be so exceedingly funny, to take his statements so far over the top, to make his beloved Tramp almost an invulnerable cartoon character with an endlessarray of lives. The stories are inventive, yet always based on people’s everyday lives, carefully portraying and subliminally impeaching their problems. Chaplin was a master of satire. He perfectly contrasted social grades, mocking them, twisting them, seemingly veiling them, making people eventually laugh about themselves and the stereotypes they represent. And while some of the critical content Chaplin processed in his movies, is over 80 years old, you will be surprised at how much of it can still be applied to our modern lives. It’s not really all that different. What is different, however, is that we don’t have any more characters like Charles Chaplin and the Tramp, who dare to break their bones in idealistic acts and daring stunts while trying to make this a better and funnier world.

The twelve comedies are spread over three separately sold discs, in no chronological order. Volume 1 contains "The Immigrant", "The Adventurer", "The Cure", and "Easy Street". In "The Immigrant", Charlie and his co-star Edna are immigrants to the land of liberty, struggling to fill their bellies with a decent meal, while fending off a bullying waiter. In "The Adventurer", he’s an escaped convict who soon ends up impersonating a wealthy yachtsman, until he ends up at the Judge’s dinner party. "The Cure" is a satire on the overwhelming alcoholism of Chaplin’s time. Playing a wealthy inebriate drying out at a sanitarium, he soon finds all his reserves dumped in the clinic’s mineral spring. "Easy Street" is a rough comedy where Chaplin turns into a policeman in the city’s toughest neighborhood. This is the most famous of the Mutuals, with its humorous portrayal of urban violence, drug addiction, spouse abuse, and the slums’ poverty.

Volume 2 of "The Chaplin Mutuals" contains "The Count", "The Vagabond", "The Fireman", and "Behind The Screen". In "The Count", Charlie, a comically inept tailor, takes on the person of a rich count in order to woo Miss Moneybags. Everything goes well until the actual Count appears at a party. "The Vagabond" is a wicked story about a street violinist, rescuing a girl from gypsies; this version includes additional, long-unseen footage. In "The Fireman", Charlie plays a clumsy apprentice fireman under his crooked precinct chief. "Behind The Screen" gives us a perfectly authentic look at early movie-making, when Chaplin took on movie studios and trade unions.

The last volume of the "Mutuals" contains "One A.M.", "The Pawn Shop", "The Floorwalker", and "The Rink". "One A.M." is a one-man show where a drunken Charlie fights off various props while he simply tries to get into his house, upstairs, and to bed. In "The Pawn Shop", Charlie plays a pawnbroker’s helper and once again the props run wild on Chaplin until he finally decides to dissect them. "The Floorwalker" was the first of the Mutual comedies, with Charlie portraying a small clerk in a department store, once again fighting off his manager and an escalator. "The Rink" shows Chaplin as a waiter for a food service company who ends up on a roller skating rink.

This collection of "Chaplin’s Mutuals" has been completely remastered in 1995. This version has been digitally transferred from 35mm film which results in a much better image with more details and fewer scratches and stains than any previous release of these films on any other medium. The image quality of the "Chaplin Mutuals" is outstanding, even more so considering that what you see on your screen is movie history, over 80years old. The material has marks of wear and tear, of course, but it is a heritage from a time when movie making was still in its infant shoes, lovingly and carefully restored by David Sheppard in 1984. This version also shows the "Chaplin Mutuals" in their original projection speed with their original intertitles.

The music to these comedies has also been revived in 1995. Michael Mortilla’s musical scores have been revised, newly performed and recorded in digital stereo. They are the perfect counterpart to Chaplin’s visuals, perfectly mimicking every move and facial expression you see on the screen. Unfortunately there is a problem with the music track of the first volume of these discs. The music is too loud and heavily distorted. This is not the case with the second and third volume, however. Even though it is somewhat reminiscent of the limited sonic capabilities of early movie making, it is very distracting. Luckily, Image is currently re-authoring this one disc for your ultimate viewing pleasure. "The Chaplin’s Mutuals" are classic cinema and to see them in this restored version is nothing but short of stunning. It is nostalgic, yes, but it is an authentic piece of movie history and the work of one of the world’s greatest satirists and most influential comedians. This collection of comedies is a must-have for anyone interested in the history of movies. It’s almost like owning an original reel of Chaplin’s Mutuals. At least, it’s as close as it can possibly get.