The slight man with the derby hat and the brusque moustache was no funnier than Buster Keaton, and his little trampings through pathos were far less dynamic than the monkey business of the Brothers Marx. Still, he was our first real movie star, and the second volume of The Chaplin Collection is a deep, deeply deserved bow to Sir Charles.
A sharp documentary by TIME’s Richard Schickel – admiring of Chaplin’s genius while recognizing the neediness that always threatened to undermine it – is just the first of this set’s copious supplements. Each feature is accompanied by a short in which a filmmaker helps put Chaplin’s legacy in the limelight: Jim Jarmusch talks about the (flat) satire and the cinema of the city in A King in New York – in which Chaplin’s monarch endures a Manhattan exile; meanwhile, Chicken Run creator Peter Lord uses City Lights to analyze the star’s choreography of slumps and wiggles. (Here’s one amazing piece of trivia: Lord notes that Chaplin as director pushed one scene through 300 takes.) And then there are outtakes, screen tests, home movies, newsreel bits, propaganda films, and the jolly clip of Chaplin and his cohorts signing the contract to create United Artists in 1919.
As for the movies themselves: The seven shorts on The Chaplin Revue have snap. The underrated Monsieur Verdoux, about a serial monogamist/murderer liquidating wives during the Depression, is tart, morbid fun. And City Lights is a classic of sentimental comedy because it gets the mix of comedy and sentiment just right. The Kid and The Circus do not. They are bathetic, and A Woman of Paris plays like bad Balzac. This superdeluxe package may not convert many casual viewers to fans, but it will turn fans into gleeful scholars.