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With: Charles Chaplin, Dawn Addams, Oliver Johnston, Michael Chaplin
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 100
Date: 09/12/1957

A King in New York (1957)

4 Stars (out of 4)

United States of Hysteria

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Making good on their promise last summer, Warner Home Video has now re-released the rest of the Chaplins on DVD. Six more discs make their debut, available separately or in a box set. Each title comes in a two-disc set, complete with tons of extras including outtakes, featurettes, stills, poster galleries, various language choices, and more.

Unfortunately, Warners has been unable to fix the slight flutter in the image; not every frame is totally clear. The movement tends to blur between frames.

Most likely, A Woman of Paris (1923) and A King in New York (1956) are the worst selling titles in the Chaplin library, and so they're been paired together here -- two for the price of one -- as they were on the old out-of-print Image discs. Fortunately, they're both terribly underrated and both contain moments of greatness. Chaplin does not appear in A Woman of Paris. It was a drama and his first film for the newly formed United Artists, and henceforth it was a flop. But it's a truly heartfelt story that never once strikes a false note. (See my full review.)

A King in New York was made after Chaplin was refused re-entry into the United States, and he clearly intended it as a biting satire. Chaplin plays King Shahdov, a monarch who barely escapes his country with the treasury. But his second-in-command makes off with the dough, and he's stuck in New York, broke. Chaplin stays the course well and true without ever tipping into either comedy or sentiment. The film's best gag has Shahdov getting his finger stuck in a firehose just before appearing in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. He sprays them all down. It's freeing more than it is funny. And when the King discovers a genius child wandering the streets homeless, Chaplin avoids preaching or weeping. Because the film was mistakenly seen as anti-American, it was not released here until the 1970s, and it has never enjoyed the reputation it deserved. Even Chaplin's hated flop Monsieur Verdoux has eventually risen in the critical consciousness. And, like The Great Dictator, A King in New York proved prophetic, not only in the McCarthy witch-hunts, but also in the relentless advertising and television obsession we have today. Jim Jarmusch provides a few insightful comments on the disc's documentary.

Other titles in the collection include Monsieur Verdoux -- arguably Chaplin's greatest work -- the undisputed classic City Lights, the silent comedy The Circus (1928) and the groundbreaking hit The Kid (1921). The set concludes with The Chaplin Revue, featuring six of Chaplin's most expensive and elaborate short films: A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms, Sunnyside, A Day's Pleasure, The Idle Class, Pay Day and The Pilgrim. Fans who buy the entire box set will also be treated to Richard Schickel's documentary Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin.

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