It seems fitting for Charlie Chaplin that A King In New York was among his last films. Nearing 70 years of age, Chaplin had just taken exile in Switzerland to avoid the slings and arrows of the McCarthy era paranoia of the Un-American Activities Committee. Using this as fuel, Chaplin created a film outside his cushy Hollywood studios for the first time in over thirty years. Suddenly far from his cheap and friendly studios where he was free to take his time perfecting a film, he was suddenly forced by circumstance into shooting on a tight budget with severe time restrictions. To that end, A King in New York was shot faster than any other major film he had shot in America Ė a record 12 weeks.
It details the story of King Shadhov who has just escaped a revolution in his homeland by fleeing to America. However, upon arrival, his Prime Minister steals the countries bankroll leaving the king practically destitute (and staying at The Ritz). As the remaining funds dwindle away, Shadhov is forced to take jobs advertising for TV and itís here that Chaplin delivers some of the more cutting blows to American society.
As his fame expands and the job offers pile up, he tours a school and meets a young man whose parents are left-wing activists. They develop a friendship that in time comes to put the King at risk and sees him before the Un-American Activities Committee. As are the boys parents and this is where Chaplin delivers his most stinging lash of all.
While billed as a comedy, A King in New York has its moments, though there is little of Chaplinís most recognised humour flowing through the film. Taking on numerous American icons (and especially McCarthy), the film tends to labour a little under the weight of too many arrows and the narrative appears disjointed and eclectic by filmís end. Still, itís a worthy addition to the Chaplin canon and much more entertaining than some of Chaplinís previous efforts (see Monsieur Verdoux).
A fully remastered black and white print, this looks as good as old school black and white can look. Delivered in the usual 4:3 ratio, Chaplin even finds time to make fun of the new widescreen films of the time. Like widescreen would ever catch on.
Occasional film artefacts donít detract from the film and the contrasts of light and dark are fairly good. The only trouble with this film is in some inferior lighting at times caused by Chaplinís haste to have the film shot and in the can. Otherwise this film looks sensational for its age and as good as any others in the Chaplin Collection.
Again there seems to be some strange desire to break up what was originally a mono track into 5.1 channels. This is unnecessary and doesnít actually do much more than feed the audio into all speakers, giving no surround dissection at all. Instead, we just have all speakers playing the unchannelled audio.
Dialogue is all easily understood and rife with Chaplinís barbs at the west. While some of these are still cutting today, a lot miss their target these long years gone by. However, Chaplinís score is another notable inclusion and is whimsical and humourous, equating it with the scores for several of his other comedies.
A more sparse offering here than on some of the larger two-disc releases of his films, but some good stuff nonetheless. First up is the introduction by Chaplinís biographer David Robinson. This is a nice way to ease into the film, helping set the scene before watching the main feature.
Next up is another in the brilliant documentary series Chaplin Today which sees the film dissected by director Jim Jarmusch. This is a fascinating excursion into Chaplinís mindset and a worthy inclusion at 26:33.
Outtakes here are actually 14 deleted scenes in context. Some are okay and some are dodgy but theyíre all still nice to check out and an interesting, if not always entertaining, segment. These are followed by Mandolin Serenade, 2:42 of footage that sees Chaplin conducting the orchestra as they record the soundtrack of the film. Interesting and better than blank disc, but inevitably not a thrilling watch.
The filmís international trailers are here strung together and running for 8:53 in various languages. The Chaplin Collection trailers are also here as they are on all discs and run for 10:43 showing various funny clips from the other DVD releases.
Thereís a photo gallery next that runs as a short film for 6:16 and features mostly promo shots with some behind the scenes stuff as well. Finally, thereís a gallery of international poster art featuring 15 from around the world.
So itís a fairly tight collection of extras here with plenty for the enthusiast to enjoy, but a little lacking compared to some of the other two-disc releases.
Chaplinís penultimate film was actually not released in America until well into the 70s due to its subversive content. He explores and ridicules such conventions as plastic surgery, television (in an eerie prediction of so-called Ďrealityí TV), advertising, cinema and even society itself, but the film belongs to its wholly misrepresented political aspect. Chaplin is a genius, thereís still no doubt about that, but taking a poke at too many demons makes this film a little stilted and not among his best works.
Itís still well worth a look for the fan and there are plenty of moments that utilise Chaplinís uncanny ability to find humour in the dullest of moments. This is definitely a fitting film to end his American career on. He loved being in America and working there, but as soon as some jumped-up villian started chasing him around and changing all the rules, the good times were very swiftly over. Too bad for America, but thankfully it wasnít the end for Chaplin who just took his skills elsewhere.