Between his early success for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company and his later feature-length masterworks, Chaplin attracted a lordly $10,000 a week from the Mutual studio to grind out a dozen short comedies seen on The Chaplin Mutuals. Flush with confidence, he pushed the Tramp into new emotional territory as a homeless Romeo in The Vagabond and a ghetto cop in Easy Street — wherein some inexplicable comic impulse drives him to sit on a syringe. More slyly blithe is the moment in The Pawnshop when he hits someone with a hammer, then fingers its obviously rubber head.
These laserdiscs from updated Blackhawk masters replace the low-rent orchestral scores and bad Dixieland that plague earlier releases with newly recorded synthesizer music — what a relief. And while the visuals don’t have the just-shot-yesterday punch of the rediscovered outtakes in HBO’s Unknown Chaplin, correctly slowed projection speeds for once allow Chaplin’s ever-delicious physical comedy to be savored in something resembling real time. A-