Charles Chaplin’s last American film, Limelight is probably his most personal work. Released in 1952, it was a very difficult time in Chaplin’s life both personally, and professionally. There were plenty of people in Hollywood who felt him un-American, and so they did little to hide their pleasure when his previous film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947) wasn’t received well, representing his first critical failure. His personal life had been marred by a paternity suit, and lawsuits. So when Limelight opened in some American theaters to a spattering of picketer’s accusing Chaplin of being a communist, his days as the world’s most popular entertainer were a distant memory.
Chaplin plays Calvero, once hailed on stages around the world as the greatest clown alive. Now largely forgotten, his art is considered archaic. Living alone in a small rooming house in London, he spends his time drinking, and leafing through old scrapbooks. After spending time with friends in a local pub, Calvero returns home and discovers that his neighbor, Thereza (Claire Bloom), a beautiful but lonely ballerina, has attempted suicide. Taking her to his apartment, Calvero nurses Thereza back to a stage career largely because of his own optimism. She wins an important audition and suddenly becomes the star she always aspired to be.
Like several of Chaplin’s film’s Limelight has stretches of sentimentality. That’s not a bad thing, Chaplin made it appear sincere. Here, when the clown Calvero suffers a heart attack during his final performance, and asks to be carried out on stage to take a final bow, it’s sentimental, but it makes perfect sense. Entertaining is Calvero’s life, his religion, this is how he would want to go out.
Limelight includes such familiar faces as such as Nigel Bruce and Norman Lloyd. Limelight‘s most famous scene, the climactic comeback performance at the Empire Theatre, finds Calvero joined by in a musical number by his old partner. His old partner is played by none other than Buster Keaton. It was the only time the two comic giants worked together, and their scene is a true delight to watch. Though it amounts to little more than a cameo, the chance to see Chaplin and Keaton together, is reason enough to pick up Limelight.
The performances are universally excellent. Chaplin looks appropriately heavier, and his facial expressions reveal weariness, and vulnerability. His pain is palpable. In her first film role, Claire Bloom looks properly elegant, and energetic; believable as a woman inspired that yes, she has everything to live for. Chaplin’s son is likeable as Neville, the poor but ambitious composer.
In 1972, twenty years after its world premiere, Limelight won Oscar Award for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score (Charles Chaplin, Ray Rasch, Larry Russell).
Released in in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s 1080p transfer is advertised as a 4K restoration, and looks stunning. The image is bright, and clean, with a light layer of film grain visible. Contrast shows nice differentiation, and depth is surprisingly impressive. This release stands head and shoulders above any previous DVD release.
The LPCM Mono soundtrack serves the film rather well. There aren’t many effects, but there is some music, notably the score by Chaplin including Eternally (Terry’s Theme), The Death of Columbine, The Animal Trainer, Spring Is Here, and The Life of a Sardine. It all sounds very good, though it won’t blow you away.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Chaplin’s Limelight (HD, 21:10) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2015, Charlie Chaplin biographer David Robinson discusses the long production history of Limelight and the development of its script, Chaplin’s relationship with Paulette Goddard, his troubles with America’s far right, and more.
- Claire Bloom Interview (HD, 15:53) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2015, Bloom discusses how Chaplin found her for the role, Thereza’s devotion to Calvero and her ambitions, Chaplin’s directing style, the film’s reception, and more.
- Norman Lloyd Interview (HD, 14:53) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2012, Lloyd discusses his first interaction with Chaplin, the visual style of Limelight, Chaplin’s relationship with actors, and more.
- Chaplin Today: Limelight (HD, 26:42) Produced in 2002, we are given a closer look at the production history of Limelight, and Chaplin’s controversial reputation in America at the time the film was produced. Included are clips of interviews with Sidney Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin’s son, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Claire Bloom.
- Charlie Chaplin Reads from Footlights (HD, 2:16) In this archival audio recording, Chaplin reads two excerpts from his novella Footlights, which inspired Limelight.
- Short Film – A Night in the Show (25:06) (1915) The twelfth film Chaplin made for the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. It is based on the play Mumming Birds, which Chaplin performed with the Fred Karno Company, first in London from 1908 to 1909, and then when the company toured the United States. Presented with a new score by composer Timothy Brock.
- Short Film – The Professor – (6:27) An uncompleted short film by Chaplin from 1919.
- Outtake (HD, 4:31) This scene was included in Limelight when it premiered in London in 1952, but subsequently removed by Chaplin, before being further distributed.
- Trailers (HD) In English, and Italian.
- Booklet: 40-page illustrated booklet featuring Peter von Bagh’s “Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man,” and Henry Gris’ “Hollywood Chaplin.