DVD Round-up, 17 May 2010

We go from the sublime to the ridiculous this week as Charlie Chaplin takes on Hitler and the Boondock Saints return to wreak havoc on audiences everywhere.

We all know Charlie Chaplin. Silent clown. Moustache. Cane. Funny walk. For many of us, that’s all we need to know, enough clips shown on TV over the years to give even the most casual film fan a feeling that he was probably quite funny, but now we’ve got Will Ferrell to make us laugh.

Thankfully two Chaplin films, in the shape of 1921’s The Kid and 1940’s The Great Dictator, have just arrived on DVD from Park Circus to prove everyone wrong.

Finding an abandoned baby in an alley, Chaplin’s classic Tramp character does his best avoid having to take care of the child, only to become its surrogate father. Years later, the child (Jackie Gleeson) and his new father, are living their lives on the streets when the boy’s mother comes looking for him, only to have the Tramp decide he doesn’t want to let him go.

At nearly an hour in length, The Kid is certainly more ambitious than many of Chaplin’s earlier shorts, but it never outstays its welcome. Adept at visual humour, Chaplin not only ensure the comedy routines are sharp but also manages to make the viewer feel the attachment the pair have for each other, no mean feat when not a single line of dialogue is uttered.

With a lovely performance from the young Gleeson and Chaplin at the top of his game, this is undoubtedly a classic of both silent cinema and cinema in general, a comedy which still holds up today against the raft of pictures churned out by Hollywood.

The second Chaplin film re-released on DVD is the anti-fascist satire which appeared at a time when the world was witnessing the rise of Adolf Hitler but America was still not at war with Germany.

The Great Dictator sees Charlie play duel roles of politician Adenoid Hynkel and a simple barber, both of whom bare an uncanny resemblance to each other. When the barber returns from fighting in the First World War to his shop, he discovers that his country is now ruled by a cruel despot in the shape of Hynkel, a man who has his eye on at some point holding the whole world in his hands, in more ways than one.

As the barber falls for local girl Hannah (Paulette Goddard), he must also try to avoid being arrested by Hynkel’s soldiers as the dictator plots the invasion of various neighbouring countries alongside fellow fascist ally Napaloni (Jack Oakie).

While the film was being made, the full extent of Hitler’s machinations were still unknown to the general public, making Chaplin’s vision of concentration camps and persecution of the Jews eerily prescient. The result is both a humorous take on the rising threat in the Europe of the 1940s and an example of the power of film to comment on the real world, a power which is too often diminished in modern filmmaking.

The novelty of being able to hear Chaplin speak is brought home in the film’s final moments when his speech to his countrymen – and the camera – brings home just how little has actually changed in 70 years.

Both films are important entries in the Chaplin canon and in cinema history and deserve rediscovery by a new audience. Both available in DVD or Blu-ray, the films each come with a welcome number of extras, including modern filmmakers looking back on their production and behind-the-scenes footage from the vaults, including gorgeous shots from the set of Dictator.

Returning to the scene of the crime 10 years after his first moviemaking experiment, cult favourite The Boondock Saints, the success of director Troy Duffy’s 2009 sequel, The Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) depends entirely on just how dear you hold the idea of a film making any kind of sense whatsoever.

With the original MacManus brothers, Connor (Sean Patrick Flanery) and Murphy (Norman Reedus) finished with their days of crime and now living with their father, Il Duce (Billy Connolly) in rural Ireland, the murder of a priest in Boston forces them out of retirement and back to America to avenge his death.

Taking over as the boys’ police acquaintance is Detective Eunice (Julie Benz), a woman determined to ensure the Saints evade justice. Also along for the ride is Romeo (Clifton Collins Jr) and the ghost of Rocco (David Della Rocco) who appears to offer support along the way.

Once more veering wildly in styles between one scene to the next – is this a thriller, revenge drama or comedy? – All Saints Day doesn’t claim to be anything other than an excuse to fire a lot of bullets, spout a variety of cliched dialogue and entertain fans of the original without offering much new. Switch off your brain for a few hours and you might just get through this unscathed.

Commentaries, deleted scenes and a discussion between Connolly and Duffy are just some of the extras on offer.

Based on a true story of atrocity during World War II, Massacre in Rome (Argent Films) stars Richard Burton as a Nazi officer ordered to kill 335 civilians as a response for the murder of 33 German soldiers by Italian Partisans in occupied Rome.

Impressively shot by director George P Cosmatos, who handles the tension well in the early sequences as the Partisans attempt to keep streets free of innocent bystanders, Massacre in Rome tells a tragic story well.

Richard Burton is on good form as he plays against type as a man given an unenviable task, while the depiction of the Vatican, as they refuse to get involved in the situation, doesn’t do much for their reputation.

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