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Import This! Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus & City Lights (Blu-ray/DVD)

By  · Published on November 29th, 2010

Great movies come from all around the world, and so do great DVDs and Blu-rays. Import This! is an irregular feature here at FSR that highlights discs and/or movies unavailable in the US that are worth seeking out for fans of fantastic cinema.

2010 has been a good year for the Little Tramp when it comes to the area of technological breakthroughs. First, Charlie Chaplin’s antics are finally coming to the superior Blu-ray format… and second, time travel has finally been proven thanks to the recent discovery of a futuristic visitor in his film The Circus.

Chaplin has long thrilled and entertained viewers on television and DVD, but this year saw his films start hitting Blu-ray in a big way. Criterion released Modern Times earlier this month, and film lovers in the UK have had it even better with Park Circus releasing that film as well as The Kid, The Great Dictator, and The Gold Rush earlier this year. Park Circus isn’t done yet though as they’ve just released two more titles in dual disc format featuring the Blu-ray and DVD.

The Circus
Country of origin: USA
Blu-ray & DVD Label: Park Circus/UK
Blu-ray & DVD Region: B & 2

Times are tough and unemployment is rampant, and while the circus in town still aims to be a source of entertainment the crowds aren’t as full as they once were. Things are just as troublesome behind the curtains as the manager is a cruel taskmaster towards his employees including his acrobatic daughter. Into this atmosphere comes The Little Tramp (Charlie Chaplin), on the run from the police after being mistaken for a pickpocket, who accidentally discovers a talent for making audiences laugh. The circus hires him and he soon falls for the trapeze artist, but can the joy last when the girl falls for someone else?

This film is rarely mentioned when Chaplin’s name comes up in conversation, and it’s an inexplicable absence. It may seem less weighty than some of his other work but it still manages to showcase Chaplin’s innate ability to find comedy in physical reactions and interactions. His official audition for the manager is a priceless series of comedic bits that see The Tramp’s obliviousness wreak havoc on the clowns’ well established routines. And the film’s finale involves a fantastic and chaotic tightrope walk by Chaplin complete with a broken safety harness and a gaggle of creepy monkeys. The Circus is a fun and lively watch and can only serve to deepen the viewer’s respect for one of cinema’s true geniuses.

The Blu-ray/DVD: The extras are identical on both the Blu and the DVD, and they’re fantastic. The introduction by David Robinson offers some fascinating insight into the film’s production including the odd bit that Chaplin neglects to mention the film even once in his autobiography. The Chaplin Today making-of featurette also details the incredible troubles Chaplin faced while making the film including his divorce and a series of tragedies that befell the film’s sets. The outtakes feature footage from a restaurant gag involving Chaplin and a pair of twins, and it highlights the man’s dedication to a bit as well as his interest in camera trickery. The Blu-ray is region B and the DVD is region 2, so both discs require the use of a region free player. As with City Lights below the remastered presentation on the Blu-ray and DVD is the best this film has ever looked.

The special features include:

City Lights
Country of origin: USA
Blu-ray/DVD Label: Park Circus/UK
Blu-ray/DVD Region: B/2

This “Comedy Romance In Pantomime” opens with The Little Tramp awaking to a public statue unveiling… with him resting in the statue’s arms. He backs himself out of the situation and meets a blind girl selling flowers on the street with whom he quickly becomes enamored. His feelings are squelched though when he’s reminded of the fact that he’s a penniless hobo with seemingly nothing to offer, so he heads off to drown his sorrow in the night air and stumbles across a drunken man on the brink of suicide. The Tramp saves the man’s life by talking him off the literal edge, and the two become fast friends… at least until the very wealthy man sobers up and forgets his new friend all together. The Tramp sees an opportunity to help the blind girl, but what happens when she finds out he’s nothing more than a hobo?

Its construct is simplistic compared to more traditional rom-coms filled with dialogue and depth, but City Lights is still one of the great romantic comedies. It succeeds brilliantly on both fronts as the laughs are frequent and the ending will leave even the most jaded viewers a bit misty in the eyes. There are several fantastic gags including a chair swapping bit, Chaplin knocking another bum over for a cigar, and a predictably hilarious attempt at boxing for cash, but equally impressive is the resolution that conveys more emotion in silent expressions than most modern day films can achieve with dialogue, manipulative scores, and any number of pop songs.

The Blu-ray/DVD: The extras are identical on both the Blu and the DVD, and once again, they’re equally fascinating and entertaining. First up is another introduction by film historian David Robinson. He talks about the film’s making-of, casting, and more including Chaplin’s distaste for leading lady Virginia Cherrill. Even half a century later the actress was quoted as saying “He didn’t like me, and I didn’t like him.” Also on the discs are a making of documentary with Peter Lord, a deleted scene involving the Tramp’s troubles with a grate, and an odd couple of minutes featuring Winston Churchill wandering the set with Chaplin and a host of other fellows. The Blu-ray is region B and the DVD is region 2, so both discs require the use of a region free player. As with The Circus above the remastered presentation on the Blu-ray and DVD is the best this film has ever looked.

The special features include:

– Buy The Circus on Blu/DVD from AmazonUK / Buy City Lights on Blu/DVD from AmazonUK

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.