Limelight Criterion Collection Blu-ray review

In one of the early scenes in LIMELIGHT, former stage clown Calvero, drunk in the afternoon, comes home to his apartment building and smells gas. When he bursts open the door it stems from, he finds a young woman passed out on her bed. “Why didn’t you let me die?” she asks. He replies, “What’s the hurry?”


It has been years since Calvero (Charles Chaplin) has entertained a packed theater. Still, he has an unwavering appreciation for life, speaking about it in marvel. As the days go by, Calvero urges the girl, a faded ballerina named Terry (Claire Bloom, in her debut; her career would find her earning Emmy and BAFTA nominations), to open her eyes to the amazement that is life: “Think of the power that’s in the universe! And that’s the same power within you. If you’d only have courage and the will to use it.”

What this bit of encouragement does for Terry also serves as a sort of therapy for Calvero. Here is a man past his prime who has lost his audience to other forms of entertainment. And if the relationship serves as a therapy for Calvero, it must serve as one to Chaplin. When Calvero and Terry begin getting acquainted, there is a sad exchange that calls to mind Chaplin at the time of LIMELIGHT’s production: “You’re not the great comedian.” “I was…”


LIMELIGHT is probably Chaplin’s most autobiographical film: Chaplin’s public image had gone down drastically in the years prior and his previous effort, MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947), was considered a flop, at least partly because it was released the same year the FBI began an investigation into his supposed ties to communism. (That LIMELIGHT takes place in 1914, the same year Chaplin made his film debut, is surely no coincidence.) Here is a picture about a man trying to reclaim his glory days, directed by a man well aware he is past his own.


Still, LIMELIGHT stands as one of Chaplin’s greatest achievements. It shows a master who, even though he had not helmed a popular work in more than a decade, giving a marvelous performance and offering a wonderfully powerful story. Chaplin’s best films may have been before him (1931’s CITY LIGHTS and 1936’s MODERN TIMES perhaps marking the pinnacle of his career) and the odds may have been against him, but LIMELIGHT shows he had not lost his heart or touch. Certainly the tender moments between Calvero and Terry are some of the most lovely he ever scripted and directed, and certainly flea circus bit stands as one of Chaplin’s greatest achievements in physical comedy.


LIMELIGHT won Chaplin his only competitive Oscar, for Best Original Score, at the 1972 Academy Awards (the Los Angeles release date was pushed back two decades due to his image at the time). He had previously won two honorary awards, at the 1st Academy Awards “for acting, writing, directing and producing THE CIRCUS” and the 44th for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.”


Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna. For the restoration, a new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35 mm original negative at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, flicker, and jitter.”

This is a stellar transfer that offers a wonderfully clean image yet maintains the grain and thus the filmic quality that will delight Chaplin aficionados.

Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was digitized at 24-bit, using COSP technology, from the 35 mm sound negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4.”

Dialogue is clean and Chaplin’s Oscar-winning score comes through nicely.

Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT (21:10): Chaplin biographer discusses Chaplin’s career, how LIMELIGHT came to be, the film’s autobiographical elements and more.

Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd: Bloom (15:53), who played Terry, and Lloyd (14:52), who played Bodalink, are interviewed separately.

Chaplin Today: LIMELIGHT (26:42): This featurette looks at Chaplin’s return to England, his worldwide reputation and the making of LIMELIGHT. Included are interviews with filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, as well as Bloom and Chaplin’s son Sydney.

Outtake (4:31): This outtake was included in the cut that premiered in London in 1952, but removed by Chaplin afterwards.

Charlie Chaplin Reads from Foolights (2:16): This audio-only addition features Chaplin reading a pair of excerpts from his novella.

Short Films: Included are 1915’s A NIGHT IN THE SHOW and 1919’s THE PROFESSOR.


Also included with this Criterion Collection release are an essay by critic Peter von Bagh and excerpts from an on-set piece by journalist Henry Gris.


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