One of my all time favorites… “The Gold Rush” is a delightful, hilarious and entertaining Charlie Chaplin comedy! Featuring both 1925 and 1942 versions of the film, “The Gold Rush” is another five star release from the Criterion Collection!
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TITLE: The Gold Rush – The Criterion Collection #615
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1925 and 1942 versions
DURATION: 72 Minutes (1942) and 88 Minutes (1925)
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Monaural, 1:33:1 Aspect Ratio, English Intertitles and Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY: Janus Films/mk2/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: June 12, 2012
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Written by Charles Chaplin
Music by Charles Chaplin
Cinematography by Roland Totheroh
Charles Chaplin as The Lonely Prospector
Mack Swain as Big Jim McKay
Tom Murray as Black Larsen
Henry Bergman as Hank Curtis
Malcolm Waite as Jack Cameron
Georgia Hale as Georgia
Charlie Chaplin’s comedic masterwork—which charts a prospector’s search for fortune in the Klondike and his discovery of romance (with the beautiful Georgia Hale)—forever cemented the iconic status of Chaplin and his Little Tramp character. Shot partly on location in the Sierra Nevadas and featuring such timeless gags as the dance of the dinner rolls and the meal of boiled shoe leather, The Gold Rush is an indelible work of heartwarming hilarity. This special edition features both Chaplin’s definitive 1942 version, for which the director added new music and narration, and a new restoration of the original 1925 silent film.
Back in 1925, Charlie Chaplin, best known for his role as the “Little Tramp”, produced, wrote and directed one of the most expensive nine-reel films of its time. It was also another silent film that achieved box office success for Chaplin, “The Gold Rush” which became Chaplin’s most successful comedy would be re-released in 1942, in a new re-release.
The re-release inspired by the success of his first talking picture “The Great Dictor” (1940), “The Gold Rush” was a film that was dear to Chaplin (and a film that he wanted to be remembered for) and this new version featured music composed by Chaplin and would also feature a new musical score. Plus added narration and tightened the editing of the film bringing down the film’s duration from 88 minutes to 72 (the 1942 film version would also feature newer footage that was cut from the 1925 version).
The film has been deemed as a Chaplin masterpiece, praised by critics and Chaplin fans and was even selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The film has also been recognized by the American Film Institute ranking #25 for “AFI’s 100 Year…100 Laughs” and “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies” ranking at #58.
And while the film is beloved in America, the film also resonated strongly internationally. In 1958, an international jury at Brussels selected this work as the second greatest film of all time (after “Potemkin”).
The film would also feature the famous “Bread Roll Dance” which has been replicated in films and television by Robert Downey Jr. in “Chaplin” , Johnny Depp in “Benny and Joon” and most recently in “The Muppets” by Amy Adams. Also, for introducing actress Georgia Hale (Miss Chicago 1922), who would be a big part in Chaplin’s personal life.
And now this beloved classic (both the 1925 and 1942 versions) will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection in June 2012.
“The Gold Rush” is set during the Klondike Gold Rush (between 1897-1899, over 100,000 people traveled to north-western Canada prospecting for gold) and The Tramp or “The Lone Prospector” (as portrayed by Charlie Chaplin) travels to the Yukon.
Despite the terrible cold weather, The Tramp still manages to find gold but with the storm getting worse, he finds a cabin. But inside the cabin is where an escaped fugitive named Black Larsen (as portrayed by Tom Murray) is hiding out. And as the Tramp makes his way into the cabin, before Black Larsen can kill him, another prospector named Big Jim McKay (as portrayed by Mack swain) has arrived to the cabin and protects the Tramp and sends a warning to Black Larsen with his rifle.
And as the three men stay inside the cabin due to the harsh weather, the three know they are running out of food. But as Black Larsen goes to search for food, he manages to kill two authorities that are looking for him and also manages to find a large gold deposit that belongs to Big Jim McKay.
As the weather has gotten better, Big Jim and the Tramp part ways and while Big Jim goes to get his gold, he finds Black Larsen trying to steal it. The two fight and Larsen hits Big Jim in the head with a shovel and as Black tries to steal the gold, the cliff underneath him begins to buckle and both Black Larsen and the gold fall off the cliff.
As for the Tramp, he arrives at a gold rush town, broke with no money and decides that prospecting is not for him. While at a saloon, he falls for a beautiful saloon girl named Georgia (as portrayed by Georgia Hale). Georgia has grown tired of the men that hit on her at the saloon, especially by Jack Cameron (as portrayed by Malcome Waite). So, in order to get away from Jack, she pretends that she is interested the Tramp, which makes the Tramp quite happy.
Meanwhile, Big Jim McKay has awaken after his injury but has lost his memory of where the gold is kept. And now has wandered into the town hoping to get clues of what happened to it. When McKay finds the Tramp, he tells him that if they find the gold, both will be millionaires!
Will the Tramp become rich and will he get the girl?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“The Gold Rush” is presented in black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio). It’s important to note that I am reviewing the DVD version and for those who want better clarity and definitive picture and audio quality will want to opt for the Blu-ray release.
With that being said, the DVD version looks fantastic. While I have not seen the Park Circus Blu-ray release in the UK, I can say that the 1942 version of the film looks amazing. Black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are well-contrast and while you can see the grain on the DVD version, for those who own the previous DVD release will enjoy this MK2 HD restoration.
As for the picture quality, according to the Criterion Collection, “The Gold Rush” features a new high-definition digital transfer of the 1942 release created on a Spirit Datacine at Scanlab in Paris from a 35 mm duplicate negative, under the supervision of MK2.
As for the audio for the 1942 version, the audio is presented in monaural. Chaplin’s narrated dialogue and music sounds clear and understandable. I didn’t detect any audio anomalies during my viewing and according to the Criterion Collection, “The Gold Rush” was remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm optical soundtrack negative at L.E. Diapason in Paris. Additional restoration was done at Criterion, where clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, and crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
As for the 1925 version of the film, as the 1925 version was abandoned due to Chaplin feeling the 1942 version was the definitive version of the film. In 1993, with the support from the Chaplin family, filmmakers Kevin Brownlow and David Gill completed a major reconstruction of the original silent film. Brownlow and Gill’s reconstruction comprises footage from various sources, some unevenness between scenes and shots remains. Additionally, numerous shots could be recovered only from sound prints, where the optical soundtrack was visible in the frame. According to the Criterion Collection, the company reframed the shots while retaining as much of the image as possible.
The new digital restoration of this reconstruction was jointly undertake in 2011 by Cineteca di Bologna and Criterion. According to the Criterion Collection, a new digital transfer was created in 6K>2K resolution from Brownlow and gill’s 35 mm reconstruction duplicate negative on an ARRISCAN film scanner at L’Immagine Ritrovata at Cineteca di Bologna. The data was then digitally restored by Criterion, which spent over 500 hours cleaning up thousands of instances of dirt, scratches, jitter and flicker using MTI’s DRS, Pixel Farm’s PFClean and Image Systems’ DVNR. The restored data was then recorded out to Fuji ETERNA-RDS 35 mm duplicate negative stock using an ARRILASER 1 film recorder at L’Immagine Ritrovata for preservation.
As for the audio for the 1925 version, the soundtrack is presented in 5.1 surround sound and the score for the 1925 version was adapted and expanded by composer Timothy Brock from Chaplin’s score for the 1942 version. It was recorded by Brock and the Orchestra Citta Aperta in 2011.
English subtitles are presented in English SDH.
“The Gold Rush – The Criterion Collection #615” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary - The 1925 version features audio commentary by biographer Jeffrey Vance.
- Presenting the Gold Rush – (15:51) Kevin Brownlow and Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance recount the journey of reconstructing the original 1925 film.
- Chaplin Today: “The Gold Rush” – (26:53) A documentary directed by Serge Le Peron in 2002 on the making of “The Gold Rush”a nd featuring interviews with actress Georgia Hale, Mary Pickford and more. Plus observations by filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo.
- A Time of Innovation: Visual Effects in the Gold Rush - (19:07) Visual effects expert Craig Barnes looks at the technique used to create some of the classic set pieces in “The Gold Rush”.
- Music by Charles Chaplin – (24:56) Classical music composer and conductor Timothy Brock discusses Chaplin’s musical achievements and his own work reconstructing Chaplin’s scores.
- Four Trailers – (9:11) Featuring the four trailers that were featured in England, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Featuring optional English subtitles.
- 26-Page booklet – “The Gold Rush” comes with a 26-page booklet with the following essays: “As Good as Gold” by Luc Sante, “James Agee on the Gold Rush” (James Agee’s review that was published in April 6, 1942 for Time Magazine).
I consider “Gold Rush” to be one of the few Chaplin films that a cinema fan must watch in their lifetime.
For me, the first time I watched “Gold Rush”, I was absolutely captivated. Sure, we get to see “The Little Tramp” and Charlie Chaplin’s physical comedy displayed in this film, but there are just too many things that I can still remember of this film. From the visual effects of a storm making the cabin seem as it was going to be crushed, the Tramp and Georgia dancing while Chaplin is tied to a large dog, the Tramp and Big Jim McKay starving to the point that they must eat a cooked shoe and of course, one of the most well-known scenes in cinema, “The Bread Roll Dance” which has been replicated several times in film but yet never accomplishing the greatness of the original.
“The Gold Rush” is a comedy that makes people laugh because of its humor but also captivates us because many people can identify with the Tramp, a man who has not much to show for his life, in love with a beautiful woman that many desire. The feeling of thinking you are loved, the feeling of not being with that person on New Year’s Eve. In a way, you can call this an early romantic comedy but done in a way that Charlie Chaplin is best known for.
It’s the persona of the Tramp that many people loved about Chaplin back in the day and it’s what audiences love about his character role today. There is always hope within Chaplin films and no matter what era this film is shown or which generation watches it, it’s a film that all can watch, laugh and be entertained.
Which leads us to two films. The original 1925 version and the re-edited 1942 version. The great news about this Criterion Collection release is that it includes both films. Part of the chatter on online when “Modern Times” was released was the debate amongst Chaplin fans who adored the original version and despite Chaplin wanting the newer versions of his films to be the definitive versions to see, many people disagree with Chaplin’s choices.
Some will say that these re-edits were done not just because it was being re-released for the movie distributors sake (to capitalize on Chaplin’s films) but it was a new Chaplin that felt differently about life and a man who certainly has lived through many hardships before and after the making of these films.
In the 1925 version, there was a focus on Chaplin’s character, the Tramp, who was in love with Georgia. The former showcased a touching scene between the Tramp and Chaplin at the end, while the 1942 version removes the entire scene. There were other edits done to the film that included the Tramp trying to woo Georgia and being fed misinformation by Jack Cameron, another man who wants Georgia and other scenes as well. And the biggest difference is the 1942 version features a new score by Chaplin and also narration by him.
Which version is better? Personally, I felt that this was a re-release that was much better than the original, although I preferred the ending of the original. Why was the touching scene cut? While there have been many opinions of why Chaplin did it, my feeling back then and now, happens to relate to his personal life. It is known now that both Chaplin and Georgia Hale had an off-an-on relationship after this film was made. Of course, to make things problematic, he was also with several women (and married) during the time that “The Gold Rush” was created.
In 1925, Charles Chaplin was one of the greatest talents in America, a powerful man but also a man who was naive of where his relationships would take him. Married to a young woman named Lita Grey and literally forced into a marriage that he didn’t want to be in (Lita wrote in her memoir that her grandfather forced Chaplin to marry Lita due to her pregnancy and threatened to kill him if he didn’t), Chaplin’s mid-’30s had his fair share of problems. But yet, he was able to be romantic with his co-star, Georgia Hale which would lead to a friendship and relationship between both individuals for many years.
But by 1942, Chaplin was 52-years-old, he was no longer the same man. Accused of “un-American activities” and suspected as a communist by the FBI, needless to say that his life had become more problematic to the point that his problems went from troubles with a woman to problems with the United States government and with other women in his life.
But did those personal problems in his life lead to the changes of “The Gold Rush”? What we do know that the ending of the 1925 version features a touching and definitive ending for The Tramp and Georgia, while the ending of the 1942 version does not. And as romantic at heart, I enjoyed the 1925 ending because it was romantic. And perhaps cutting that scene out was possibly personal as he also had cut out Georgia Hale from his life. Or perhaps the notion of a man and woman always having a happy ending was not plausible, especially of how things have went for him…Chaplin himself had been with different women, but he himself had not found a happy ending (note: A year later, in 1943, Chaplin would meet and marry Oona O’Neill at the age of 54 and the two would remain married up to the day of his death).
But what we have are two films that should appease fans of the 1925 or 1942 versions. Unlike “Modern Times” which sent some fans in a furor because the extended dance scene was not included (despite Chaplin himself making the cut), there are silent film fans who believe middle-aged Chaplin and much older Chaplin were different and even if older Chaplin made these cuts and called them definitive, there are fans who believe that these re-releases or cuts shouldn’t have been done.
So, the good news is that there are two versions of “The Gold Rush” included with this Criterion Collection release.
And even better news is how magnificent this film looks. Sure, I’m reviewing the DVD version and not the Blu-ray version of the film, but I can still see major improvements from the previous DVD (and also the hideous public domain copies), that fans of Chaplin or those who are curious, will still love this release! Otherwise, I have no doubt in my mind that the best version to get of these two films are on Blu-ray. But what you have with this release are two films that went through many hours of restoration and in Criterion’s part, over 500-hours dedicated to cleaning the film up for release.
And both the Blu-ray and DVD release both include a good amount of special features and an audio commentary as well.
Overall, “The Gold Rush” is one of my all-time Chaplin favorites. Is it his best film? Chaplin has too many films in his oeuvre that can be considered great but for a comedy, I really enjoyed “The Gold Rush” (both versions) a lot and the many scenes from the film, I just love watching over and over and I have not grown tired of watching it!
Chaplin’s physical comedy and writing was fantastic, Georgia Hale was impressive and the visual effects for its time was amazing. There are too many things that I love about this film and I’m glad that both versions have been released on Blu-ray and DVD.
I truly believe that for older Chaplin fans and newer Chaplin fans… “The Gold Rush” from the Criterion Collection is one release that you will not regret buying. It’s a delightful, hilarious and entertaining comedy that I’m sure many of you will feel it’s a comedy that is not only worth watching but also a release worth owning!
“The Gold Rush – The Criterion Collection #615″ is highly recommended!
This is Charlie Chaplin’s bold masterpiece and also a sound film that is audacious because it was a satire of Adolf Hitler, but the film also provided a chance for Chaplin to use cinema as a way to communicate to millions against the dictatorship, oppression, persecution and war. The film is fantastic but what the Criterion Collection has done was release it on Blu-ray, giving it the best PQ and AQ presentation possible plus including many wonderful special features to make this release an easy “must own”! Another five-star release from the Criterion Collection, “The Great Dictator” is highly recommended!
Image courtesy of © 2011 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Great Dictator – The Criterion Collection #565
YEAR OF FILM: 1940
DURATION: 125 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), Black and White, Monaural
COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: May 24, 2011
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Written by Charles Chaplin
Cinematography by Karl Struss and Roland Totheroh
Edited by Willard Nico
Art Direction by J. Russell Spencer
Charles Chaplin as Hynkel – Dictator of Tomania/A Jewish Barber
Jack Oakie – Napaloni as Dictator of Bacteria
Reginald Gardiner as Schultz
Henry Daniell as Garbitsch
Billy Gilbert as Herring
Grace Hayle as Madame Napaloni
Carter DeHaven as Bacterian Ambassador
Paulette Goddard as Hannah
Maurice Moscovitch as Mr. Jaeckel
Emma Dunn as Mrs. Jaeckel
Bernard Gorcey as Mr. Mann
Paul Weigel as Mr. Agar
In his controversial masterpiece The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin offers both a cutting caricature of Adolf Hitler and a sly tweaking of his own comic persona. Chaplin, in his first pure talkie, brings his sublime physicality to two roles: the cruel yet clownish “Tomainian” dictator and the kindly Jewish barber who is mistaken for him. Featuring Jack Oakie and Paulette Goddard in stellar supporting turns, The Great Dictator, boldly going after the fascist leader before the U.S.’s official entry into World War II, is an audacious amalgam of politics and slapstick that culminates in Chaplin’s famously impassioned speech.
The most audacious film from Charlie Chaplin.
It was Charlie Chaplin who was known for the moustache before Adolf Hitler and in 1940, Chaplin would create one of the most surprising and shocking comedies during World War II mocking Adolf Hitler and at the same time, giving one of the greatest movie speeches of all time that was directed to Hitler.
“The Great Dictator” was a film that Chaplin needed in his career. Know for his role of the tramp in many of his silent films, like many silent film stars, their careers died when the talkies took over. But Chaplin was still one of the few who were able to create a silent during when most people were enjoying films with sound. His film “Modern Times” (1936) remains a classic but its the “Great Dictator” that stands out amongst the many films in his oeuvre. It was a film that was risky because he put $1.5 million of his own money to the film and it was important for him to release the film or else he would have to file bankruptcy.
Nominated for five Academy Awards which included “Best Actor in a Leading Role” and “Best Writing, Original Screenplay” in 1941, Chaplin took risks by taking his tramp character and playing the role of a Jewish barber and a dictator. While Chaplin insists that he would never play the Tramp in his sound film, and this character is not the tramp but an entirely different character, Chaplin would later acknowledge a connection.
And while the film continues to be studied by scholars and each having their own interpretation of the juxtaposition of Chaplin ala his dual role in the film and to Adolf Hitler, the fact is that both were born four days apart, both sported toothbrush moustache, both were born in poverty and both rose in popularity, one man had aspirations to make millions laugh while the other would hurt and emotionally scar millions.
But the film was created during wartime. Shot in 1938 and 1939, during a time when the atrocities caused by Nazi Germany was known. This satire of Adolf Hitler was bold, it was supported by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and it was what many Americans needed during this dark time in the world. People needed to laugh and thus the film was well-received and popular in the American public. Nearly 60 years later, in 1997, “The Great Dictator” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
“The Great Dictator” begins during World War I. A Jewish private (played by Charlie Chaplin), a barber is sent to fight for the Central Powers in the army of the fictional nation of Tomainia.
Despite not being a good soldier and often messing up. May it be trying to throw a grenade, trying to use anti-aircraft weaponry or accidentally getting lost and ending up with enemy soldiers, while trying to runaway from his enemies, he accidentally runs into a pilot who is in need of help.
The Jewish private ends up helping Commander Schultz (played by Reginald Gardiner) on to his airplane and helping pilot it, while Schultz is in a daze and must bring important information to his superiors. While the Jewish private and Commander Schultz ride the airplane, it runs out of gas and both crash in a marsh. Both are injured but survive.
While Commander Schultz is able to give his fellow soldiers the dispatches, he is told that the war has ended and Tomainia has lost the war.
Fast forward and we hear a speech by Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin’s satire on Adolf Hitler), the ruthless dictator of Tomainia who wants to persecute the Jews. He rules Tomainia with an iron fist and together with his staff, they try to find ways to cause war in order to dominate the world, capture more areas and persecute more and more people, even if they have to be nice at first but then to double cross them (side note: Tomainia’s flag is a double cross).
The film then focuses on the lives of these two men.
The Jewish barber has been hospitalized with memory loss and is unaware of Hynkel and Tomainia’s powerhold in various countries and their persecution of the Jews. When he returns to his barbershop, he notices that storm troopers are painting the word “Jew” on windows at his shop. When he tries to stop them, the storm troopers try to discipline him by brute force. But he is saved by Hannah (played by Paulette Goddard), who is smitten by the barber due to his bravery of confronting the storm troopers and eventually, the barber himself would start to develop feelings towards Hannah.
Of course, the storm troopers are not going to let the Jewish Barber mock them and next thing you know, a large group of them go after the barber. As they are about to lynch him on a light post, he is reunited with Commander Schultz who saves him and tells the storm troopers to back off and not touch him.
Meanwhile, the dictator Adenoid Hynkel is planning to betray the Jews. One, to find a way to take their money to fund his war and invade the neighboring country of Osterlich but first he plans to end the persecution of Jews but once he is able to secure the money from them, he will betray and persecute them. Commander Schultz is against Hynkel’s plan and despite being a decorated warrior, Hynkel will not tolerate Schultz’ behavior and sentences him to the concentration camps.
Schultz manages to escape from captivity and ends up reuniting with the Jewish barber. But how long can these two continue to run from the Tomainian storm troopers and survive? And what will happen to Hannah and her family when Hynkel authorizes the persecution of all Jews?
“The Great Dictator” has gone through major remastering several years ago. And while there are many people who have saw this film many times before, the fact is that on Blu-ray, this film looks absolutely fantastic. I was very impressed, especially when I began comparing the Blu-ray version to the DVD release. Blacks were inky and dark, picture quality was sharper, detailed and more pronounced.
For now, this is the definitive version of “The Great Dictator” to own when it comes to picture quality.
Personally, I feel that this Blu-ray release of “the film is the best looking version of “The Great Dictator” to date. Presented in 1080p (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and in black and white, the blacks are nice and deep. The contrast is just right and there is a good amount of grain. Previous releases usually were devoid of grain and dust and scratches can be seen. While for this release from the Criterion Collection, they did a wonderful job of eliminating the dust and scratches that were seen on the original DVD release and suffice to say, this transfer on Blu-ray is fantastic!
You can notice the detail in the film. In fact, similar to “Modern Times” on Blu-ray, there is noticeable detail in the images from the close ups of Paulette Goddard, you can see the shimmer in her eyes and how she absolutely shines in this film and in HD, she looks terrific. We can literally see the grime on her face and of course, the transformation from cleaning lady to a beautiful counterpart for the Jewish barber.
This is a new remaster and the new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a combination of a 35 mm fine-grain mater positive and a 35 mm duplicate negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system, while DigitalVision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
One thing that fans of “The Great Dictator” will notice is how clean the lossless monaural track is. No hissing or pops and for the most part, the monaural soundtrack is quite crisp, clear and very clean.
The monaural soundtrack according to the Criterion Collection was transferred at 24-bit from the sound negative and restored by L.E. Diapason using Pro Tools and Cedar. Additional restoration was done at Criterion, where clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
“The Great Dictator – The Criterion Collection #565″ on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Performer/Author Dan Kamin and silent film historian Hooman Mehran discus the verbal and visual puns of the film, the Jewish performers of the film, the two dictators, “King, Queen, Joker”, the real world violence and more.
- The Tramp and the Dictator – (55:00) 2001 Documentary by Kevin Brownlow and Michael Kloft discuss the parallels of the life of Chaplin and Hitler. Narrated by filmmaker Kenneth Branagh and featuring interviews with author Ray Bradbury, director Sidney Lumet, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., screenwriter Budd Schulberg and many others.
- Chaplin’s Napoleon – (19:12) A Visual essay by Cecilia Cenciarelli, archivist and head of the Cineteca di Bologna’s Progretto Chaplin.
- The Clown Turn’s Prophet – (20:54) A Visual essay by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance using films stills and historical imagery.
- Sydney Chaplin’s Footage – (26:52) Silent footage in color filmed by Charlie Chaplin’s half-brother documenting the production of “The Great Dictoator” on 16mm.
- King, Queen, Joker – Surviving elements of the 1921 Paramount Pictures silent film: Sidney Chaplin (4:54) and Two Shaves (2:21)
- Charlie the Barber – (7:50) A scene shot for the 1919 silent film “Sunnyside” but never used.
- Trailer – (2:01) The original theatrical trailer of “The Great Dictator”.
A 30-page booklet featuring the following essays “The Joker and the Madman” by Michael Wood, an article from the New York Times (October 27, 1940) titled “Mr. Chaplin Answers his Critics” and from “….Pourquoi les coiffeurs? by Jean Narboni – What is Known as Really Speaking” feat. an introduction by Richard Brody. The booklet also includes “The Great Dictator” illustrations by Al Hirschfeld from 1942, courtesy of the Al Hirschfeld Foundation.
Audacious. A masterpiece. Chaplin’s greatest film ever. The greatest speech in a film.
Decade after decade, many critics, many audiences have had their own say of how they felt about “The Great Dictator”.
I truly believe that for many of us living today, far from those who watched the film and had to live through both World Wars, we look at this film and while we expect physical comedy, scenes that are hilarious and Chaplin being Chaplin, sometimes a few minutes can change the course of a film and make it something entirely different. In the case of “The Great Dictator”, when I first watched this film, I felt like clapping, hooting and just being proud of the words that were coming out of the mouth of the Jewish barber. It was so unexpected but it was Chaplin being bold, being brave and reaching out to the millions who have watched him and give them a personal message.
After all, there have been juxtapositions between Chaplin and Adolf Hitler. From the mustache, their upbringing and how both had captured the attention of millions, one through comedy, one through brutality and force. And as Adolf Hitler was invading and persecuting the Jews, at the time, Chaplin had no idea of the extent of the atrocities that Hitler and Nazi Germany has done but yet that speech he gave at the end was the cherry on the cake.
After using satire to make fun of Hitler and his men, he delivered the unexpected grand slam by giving a speech that was loud and clear. Well, for me it was. Hitler was the force of evil, Chaplin was the force of good.
And I say that because not everyone felt that way back then. Back in the ’50s, due to McCarthy-ism, many in America turned on Chaplin as being un-American. A decade after “The Great Dictator”, public sentiment was not exactly at its kindest for Charlie Chaplin and also many entertainers, radio hosts, screenwriters and filmmakers at the time were boycotted and Chaplin was upset at how he was treated that he renounced his American citizenship and made Switzerland his home, only to return back to the US when he received his Honorary Oscar at the Academy Awards in 1972.
Each time I read about how critics lampooned Chaplin at the time is surprising and it was the sign of the times. Francois Truffaut once wrote,”Whenever I hear, ‘Now that Chaplin is taking himself seriously, his work is finished,’ I can’t help thinking that his work is beginning. An artist can create works for himself to “do himself good”, or “do good” for others.
Film critic Andrew Sarris wrote in his book “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet” in regards to “The Great Dictator”, “But even his devastating parody of Hitler was discounted by audiences and critics on the grounds that the old comedy conventions were inadequate for the sleek new tyrannies. Only when absurdest modes of expression became the rage in the sixties and seventies could “The Great Dictator” be appreciated for the psychologically complex vision it provided through its stylized spectacles.”
When I read the various reviews from film critics from 1940 through the 1970′s, you can’t help but see how the times and the appreciation of this film would change. After all, if you lived in the ’40s and all you have heard is Hitler this and Hitler that, non-stop, especially if you grew tired of a war that last many years, you probably would want to tune-out as well.
But here we are. Over 70-years later and for me, “The Great Dictator” is a film that is bold, masterfully created, choreographed and performed with great efficacy, but without knowing the extent of the atrocities caused by Nazi Germany, what Chaplin was able to capture was one’s will to live. Those who are persecuted fought to survive, those who followed the dictatorship were fanatics, troglodytes that didn’t think for themselves but were people who were taught to think like their dictator.
But it was Chaplin who dared cross the man that he has been juxtaposed with. The other man with the similar mustache who rose to popularity like himself but chose a different path. And to think of today’s filmmakers, not being able to use a film as a platform to showcase their creativity, for the sake of making profit, there was no doubt that Chaplin had his back towards the wall, he risked everything for this film in the hopes that it would be successful but also understood.
As for the Blu-ray release, “The Great Dictator” is magnificent. I felt “Modern Times” was absolutely wonderful in content and presentation and of course, the film itself, but the Criterion Collection has done a great service to their loyal followers by giving people the best looking version of “The Great Dictator” to date.
And if you wan to learn more about “The Great Dictator”, of course, after you have seen the film, from the comparisons of similarities and differences between Chaplin and Hitler, to the making of this film, deleted scenes for other Chaplin films, audio commentary, let’s just say that there are many special features to keep Criterion fans busy.
Overall, this is another 5-star release from the Criterion Collection. Sure, there are some who may find Chaplin’s crucial speech at the end as too much or too different for their liking but I call it bold, successful and impressive.
“The Great Dictator” is a masterpiece that one must watch and experience in their lifetime. Sure, it’s not Chaplin, the silent tramp that silent fans may have fallen in love with but with “The Great Dictator”, Chaplin was able to make a statement to those who are persecuted, to those who are being oppressed and to think of the context of when this film was released and who the man that Chaplin himself was mocking. It makes you wonder if Hitler actually watched the film and if so, how he felt about it.
In the end, “The Great Dictator” is a film that showcases Chaplin as a genius and this is one masterpiece that I can easily give it 5-stars. Highly recommended!