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THE CHAPLIN COLLECTION, VOLUME TWO In Bernardo Bertolucci's current drama The Dreamers, there's a scene in which the two lads argue over who's better, Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. The American kid supports Keaton while the French boy champions Chaplin, and it's obvious that we're supposed to side with the Yankee (all the more so since the French teen also declares his love for -- gasp! -- Jerry Lewis). Indeed, the current critical reevaluation has shifted toward Keaton as the cooler choice; detractors claim that Chaplin was too sentimental for his own good, but I couldn't disagree more. The key behind Chaplin's genius is indeed his ability to simultaneously make us laugh and cry, to infuse his creative comedies with poignant storylines that are truly moving. For proof of the actor-writer-director-producer-composer's prowess, look no further than the magnificent box sets produced by Warner Bros. and MK2. Volume One, an eight-disc set that debuted last July, contains four Chaplin features as well as an astonishing amount of archival material, much of it never before seen by the public. Volume Two is even larger -- 12 DVDs showcasing six feature films, seven early shorts, a comprehensive documentary, and more than 60 special features ranging in length from a couple of minutes to a full hour.

The Kid (1921) was Chaplin's first full-length feature, a charming yet tough-minded yarn in which the Tramp adopts an orphan boy (Jackie Coogan) and teaches him how to survive on the streets. This one brought my 12-year-old daughter to tears, a testament to Chaplin's enduring ability to reach out across the years and touch someone.

The Circus (1928), which earned Chaplin a special Oscar at the first Academy Awards ceremony, is one of the filmmaker's funniest works, with the Tramp signing on with the circus and mixing it up with inept clowns, a psychotic mule and some seriously annoying monkeys.

City Lights (1931) is one of Chaplin's three undisputed masterpieces (the other two, Modern Times and The Gold Rush, were included in Volume One), a remarkable work in which the Tramp falls for a blind flower girl. The hilarious boxing sequence is a classic in itself, and the final reunion scene moves me no matter how many times I see it.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947) was a flop with audiences and most critics when it was initially released, and it sank further into notoriety as the British moviemaker became a target of right-wing American witchhunts because of his leftist politics. But it has since been rediscovered as a genuine gem, a striking black comedy (based on an idea by Orson Welles) about a Frenchman who marries and murders wealthy women. Chaplin is superb in a characterization that's a far cry from the Little Tramp, and Martha Raye lends great support as the braying wife that a frustrated Verdoux is repeatedly unable to bump off.

The box set also includes two lesser known Chaplin pictures -- A Woman of Paris (1923) and A King of New York (1957) -- a compilation of shorts collectively titled The Chaplin Revue, and Richard Schickel's 2003 documentary Charlie: The Life and Art of Charlie Chaplin. As for the bonus features, they include deleted scenes, home movies, screen tests and much, much more.
The Kid:
The Circus: 1/2
City Lights:
Monsieur Verdoux: 1/2
Extras:

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