Limelight (Criterion)

Director - Charles Chaplin

Cast - Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 1

Distributor - Criterion

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

Date - 05/12/15

The Film (5/5)

    I am a great fan of the silent works of Charlie Chaplin.  From his shorts for Mutual to his great feature works such as City Lights and Modern Times the blend of comedy and drama from Chaplin has never failed to impress me at any age. However, I have never looked into his sound performances, I feel that at some point in my past I was lead to believe that his work in the sound era was considered lesser to his work during the silent era.

    Sometimes I love being wrong.

     I have just watched the new Criterion Blu-ray of Limelight, and not only has the film grown my estimation of Chaplin's sound era work, but it's become my favorite Chaplin, and also one of my all-time favorite films in the course of one viewing. The film stars Chaplin as Calvero, according to a poster on his wall a "Tramp Comedian" that has gone far past his prime, now in his old age he struggles to find work and stay relevant, frequently using alcohol as a sort of lubricant between him and his comedic talents. Into his life comes Thereza played by Claire Bloom. Thereza lived in a one room apartment downstairs from Calvero, but as the film opens is attempting to kill herself with gas. Calvero finds her, and saves her, and brings her back to his apartment to heal.  As she begins to recover from her suicide, it becomes apparent to Calvero that she suffers from an ailment that prevents her legs from moving, to Thereza it is all too real, but to the doctors who treat her it is all in her head. 

     Calvero regardless treats her as a close friend, and helps to get her back on her feet, as it turns out that she was at one point a ballerina, and still aspires to be one. Once healed she is able to prove her talents to a local famed ballet company, and eventually become the lead. This makes her famous across Europe, but she never forgets Calvero who is still struggling. Eventually getting him a role in her ballet as a clown, and latter after he has disappeared for some time manages to get him a showcase honoring his lifetime of work.

    The film is basically documenting the rise of the young Thereza, and the fall of the elder Calvero.  It does a beautiful job of documenting the music hall background that Calvero came from, and is far removed from, and the ballet culture that Thereza is now a part of.  The highlights of the film are the moments where Calvero performs his routines, these go from his dream sequences of himself on stage, to the amazing collaboration with Buster Keaton (the only moment these 2 would share together on screen), but also more subtle moments like Chaplin performing as a series of plants and flowers for Thereza as she heals early on.

    Limelight came out in 1952 during the McCarthy era where Hollywood was being scrutinized under a communist microscope, and as Chaplin was a communist sympathizer, Limelight seen as a comeback film to the director and performer was rarely seen in the U.S. until a 1972 re-release that was awarded an Oscar. This is truly tragic, as Limelight is truly classic Chaplin and one of the great man's finest works. It is a successful blend of comedy and drama in a way that only Chaplin can provide updated for the sound era.


Audio/Video (5/5)

    Limelight is another glorious transfer by Criterion. This is simply beautiful work with excellent contrast, grain structure, and fine detail.

    The audio is presented with an LPCM 1.0 mono track in English. Which sounds quite excellent as well.

Extras (4/5)

    Criterion have packed their edition of Limelight into a stunning special edition.  We get a video essay on the film, a 2003 featurette on the film's history, 2 interviews with the cast one with Claire Bloom, and the other with Norman Lloyd.  There are 2 shorts one is a fragment that introduces the fleas concept that is utilized in Limelight, the other is set in the world of the music hall. We get an audio piece with Chaplin reading a novelized version of the film that runs about 2 minutes, outtakes, and trailers.


    Limelight having come late in his career, and long after his popularity waned was certainly not given the attention it deserved. However, it is certainly one of the finest films from Chaplin. The A/V restoration from Criterion is fantastic, and the extras elaborate, entertaining, and interesting. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED