Limelight, Blu-ray (1952/2015)
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Buster Keaton, Sidney Chaplin
Studio: Chaplin Films/ Janus/ The Criterion Collection 756 [5/19/15]
Video: 1.37:1 for 4:3 black & white 1080p HD
Audio: English mono PCM
Extras: “Chaplin’s Limelight: Its Evolution and Intimacy” new video essay; New interview with Clarie Bloom & Norman Lloyd; “Chaplin Today: Limelight” a 2002 documentary; Chaplin reads two excerpts from his novella Footlights (audio only); Two Chaplin shorts: A Night in the Show & The Professor; One outtake & two trailers; Printed booklet with essay by critic Peter von Bagh: “Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man,” and excerpts from journalist Henry Gris
Length: 137 min.
This very personal film by Chaplin is about the twilight of a former vaudeville comedian and is almost autobiographical, since Chaplin never had the tremendous successes with his sound films that he had had with his silents, was overshadowed by younger and newer directors, and had a thing for very young women (he was currently with his last wife – Eugene O’Neil’s daughter Oona).
Chaplin plays Calvero, a once-successful London vaudeville performer who is now a washed-up alcoholic living in a small flat. (When I see some of Calvero’s onstage bits, I wonder why he was so popular.) He meets the much-younger Thereza, a ballerina who lives downstairs, when she attempts suicide. He takes her into his place, gets her back in shape (including curing her psychological hangup of being paralyzed), and she falls in love with him, smitten by his talent and great soul. But he feels she is only showing pity. Chaplin clearly saw Bloom as a replacement for both his young wife Oona and his late mother.
At the end of his career Calvero gets a chance for a climactic comeback and does a (somewhat too long) musical duet routine with his old partner, played by the other great comedy star of the silents, Buster Keaton. This was the only time the two worked together and Keaton actually isn’t given much to do. There are also a lot of rather silly ballet scenes as dancer Thereza performs in a ballet in which Calvero plays a clown/Harlequin. Calvero eventually dies after falling off the stage at the end of his sketch with Keaton. He had many bit parts for his family in this film, including a major one for his son Sidney, and even had Oona sit in briefly for Clare Bloom at one point.
All in all, the film is overly sentimental by today’s standards, but very well done, and Chaplin is excellent as Calvero. (I was surprised how bumpy the camera zooms often were.) As with most Criterion discs, the many supplements are fascinating. The restoration is of course perfect, with a wonderful range of black to white, and the two shorts are interesting. The second (unfinished) one shows a funnier bit of a character having a flea circus than the one Chaplin used again as one of Calvero’s onstage bits in Limelight. The interviews with Clarie Bloom about Limelight are also of great interest, as is the one with actor Norman Lloyd. The awful banning of Chaplin from the U.S. during the McCarthy Era (mostly the doing of the American Legion) is shown. I’d almost forgotten that part of his involvement in every aspect of his films was that Chaplin created all the excellent music used in his films, even though he never learned to read or write music.