Documentaries on Chaplin

Check your video stores to see if they have these, and if not you probably can order them through the store or order them through the web. If anyone has tried to order these videos through the web, email me so that I can list them here so others know about it :).

The Eternal Tramp narrated by Gloria Swanson

Video supplier: CBS/Fox Video
original release: 1957 (?)
time length: approx. 55 min.
Black and White

Re-released in 1992 by CBS/Fox Home Video, this film is the oldest documentary that I know of. I believe that it was originally released in 1957 from what I can make out from the date given during the opening credits (it's small and blurry) and also that A King in New York is not mentioned. It consists of mostly clips from his films he made from 1914 to 1917, and only mentions the later ones up to Limelight. It does contain bits of interesting things like a couple seconds of a Charlie Chaplin cartoon. For a bit of trivia, Swanson appearred in one of Chaplin's early short films, His New Job, as an extra.

The Gentleman Tramp narrated by Walter Matthau

Video Supplier: MPI Home Video
original release: 1975
Time length: 70 min.
Color & Black and White

This is my favorite bio documentary. This covers everything from his birth, his rise from music halls to movies, the marriages, etc., with film clips interwoven with newsreel footage and photos. There isn.t much that I don't like about this doc, other than it being to short :). The segment where the doc covers the divorce trial of Chaplin and Lita (his second wife) I thought was very interesting. The way that the newspsper columns were read overlapping one by one gave and effect of being a very confusing time, which helps to have an understanding of how hectic Chaplin's life was at that time. I also enjoyed the home videos towards the end of him, Oona, and their kids at their Swiz. home with the music of "Eternally" (theme song to "Limelight") in the background.

Unknown Chaplin narrated by James Mason

Video supplier: Thames Video Collection/HBO Video
original release: 1983
Approximate time length: 55 min.
Color & Black and White
3 volumes

This is a must have for fans (along with Gentleman Tramp). All three consist of footage of out-takes that Chaplin had ordered to be destroyed. Some footage that Chaplin shot has been lost or rotted (they show a few seconds in the first volume of a scene from THE VAGABOUND that is barely recognisable). But what has survived and is shown is wonderfully kept pieces of never before seen bits of film. The pieces from 1916 almost looks like a period film that was just shot in black and white.

Kevin Brownlow and David Gill (who recently past away) did an amazing job of going through hours worth of footage, and they probably agonized on what to leave out of the documentary. Everything is put together so well, and along with Carl Davis's (who I think is the only man alive who should be allowed to touch Chaplin's music) arrangements of both Chaplin's music and classical music.

Since this is a 3 volume doc, I'll do a separate write-up on each...

My Happiest Years

This has an introduction given by Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie's oldest with his fourth wife Oona), and shows the making of some of his films while he was with Mutual Film Company (1916-1917). The cut scene with the ax from BEHIND THE SCREEN was really interesting, along with the cut scene of the contortionist from THE CURE.

The Great Director

Dean Reisner, the bratty kid from THE PILGRIM, starts this episode off with his story on how Charlie and Sydney had to coax him into slapping them. Then it goes into interviewing Lita Grey Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, Georgia Hale, and Virginia Cherrill. It goes "behind the screen" on the making of THE KID, GOLD RUSH, and CITY LIGHTS.

Hidden Treasures

Here are more out takes that never made their way the the big screen. In the begginning is a homemovie from sometime in the 1920s which is believed to have later inspired the scene in THE GREAT DICTATOR where Hynkel performs a ballet with the globe balloon. Other bits are a unfinished and unreleased film, THE PROFESSOR, where Chaplin is a down-on-his-luck ringmaster of a flea circus. This film later evolved into one of the dream sequences in LIMELIGHT. It also has cuts from THE CIRCUS (interesting special effects there), and CITY LIGHTS.

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