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Pawnshop, The

Pawnshop, The(1916)

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After one year in the business, Charles Chaplin was the best-known movie comedian in America. By the time he finished his contract with the Mutual Film Corporation less than three years later, he was the world's most famous celebrity and remained so for the rest of the twentieth century.

How did this happen? There is only one answer: the films he made during this brief period. Now they have all been collected in one DVD box called Charlie Chaplin: Short Comedy Classics that may very well represent the pinnacle of motion picture art.

Now, don't be scared. You don't need college-level analysis to understand this art; just a sense of humor. These shorts, running from fifteen minutes to a little over a half hour each, are like episodes in a television series, but a series with a sustained level of comic invention and surprise that has never been equaled.

When His New Job was released in February 1915 as the first short Chaplin made for the Essanay Company, Chaplin was still indulging in the knockabout slapstick humor of the Keystone Studios where he had spent the last year. During that time, Chaplin had already added a touch more finesse to the farce. Kicks to the rump were not just delivered; they were savored, reaching their target in surprising ways. Although audiences loved these violent comedies, Chaplin strove for something more.

Three months later he released The Tramp. It wasn't the first film in which Chaplin had played his tramp character; he first donned the costume over a year before. The point of the title was that this was about the tramp as a character. All the laughs were still there but by the end, viewers felt sorry for this poor little man who loved a woman above his reach. It broke all the comedy rules; audiences were not supposed to feel sympathy and pity in a movie comedy, but somehow Chaplin made it work.

From there Chaplin went from triumph to triumph. Many of the most famous sequences in his career came from this period: Charlie chased down an up escalator in The Floorwalker (1916), besting a powerful villain with a gas streetlight in Easy Street (1917), analyzing a clock brought into The Pawnshop (1916), a drunken one-man battle against stuffed animals and a runaway table in One A.M. (1916) and, most famously, his roller-skate ballet in The Rink (1916).

All of these and many, many more classic Chaplin shorts are collected on these six DVD's, Chaplin's entire output for the Essanay and Mutual Studios. If you have tried watching Chaplin shorts before in grainy, duped, washed-out prints, you are in for a real treat. These shorts have been compiled from the best-available sources, some looking as good as the day they first hit movie screens. Image Entertainment, who has released this set, has also included a seventh bonus DVD (as if a bonus were needed!); a Scottish documentary about Eric Campbell, Chaplin's nemesis in the Mutual shorts.

Over the course of these DVD's you can watch Charles Chaplin turn movie comedy from an amusement into an art and have lots of laughs besides. Charlie Chaplin: Short Comedy Classics may be the most mandatory purchase ever released on DVD. It is as necessary for the home of any lover of great art as a complete set of Shakespeare's plays.

For more information about Charlie Chaplin: Short Comedy Classics, visit Image Entertainment. To order Charlie Chaplin: Short Comedy Classics, go to TCM Shopping.

by Brian Cady