Release Date(s)1952 (May 19, 2015)
Studio(s)Charles Chaplin Productions/United Artists/MK2 (Criterion - Spine #756)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A+
Having done several reviews of other Charlie Chaplin titles before, I’ve always been fascinated by his output during his time with United Artists. Not that any of the work before and after wasn’t important, but the output during that timeframe felt so fresh and vibrant. It’s an amazing set of films, all totally and utterly worthy of only the finest home video treatment, especially Limelight. After the many successes he had up to this point in his career, Limelight served as his last film with United Artists, but it also reflected Chaplin, his career, and his standing as a U.S. citizen at the time.
Chaplin was very much in the twilight of his career at the time, and even he knew it. He had told friends and family that Limelight would likely be his last film. Although it wasn’t, it certainly feels like a final curtain call. This time around, Chaplin’s film became highly autobiographical, despite his insistence that he based the character of Cavero on the life of stage actor Frank Tierney. Chaplin’s waning star at the time, however, mixed with the subject matter of a vaudeville comedian who had fallen on hard times and was looking to have one last shot at greatness, made the film even closer to a self-portrait than he had intended.
He had spent more than three years developing the project, aiming for a more serious and dramatic tone than he ever had in his films previously. Although the film was set in London, it was actually shot on soundstages at Paramount and RKO studios with rear screen projection footage of London used for some exterior shots. Chaplin cast stage and first time film actress Claire Bloom as his co-lead, as well as Buster Keaton in a very memorable role later in the film. It was the only time the two ever worked together on a project, and despite rumors that Chaplin felt upstaged by Keaton, the two got along splendidly and Chaplin even relaxed his directorial reins during their musical number together. Chaplin also cast many members of his family in the film, including his own children.
As previously mentioned, Limelight was Chaplin’s final American film. While touring the film in London, he was refused re-entry into the U.S. on the grounds that he was allegedly a communist sympathizer. Chaplin, who was “fed up” with the controversy, chose not to return to the United States. Limelight, as a consequence, was boycotted and (mostly) poorly reviewed. However, in Europe, it was received quite well. Once the dust had settled, it was later honored at the 1972 Academy Awards. Obviously, the impact of the film wasn’t felt in the U.S. during its original theatrical run, but time has been much kinder to Limelight. Saying that it’s one of Chaplin’s best films is almost an understatement (as if he could have made a poor one). It still holds a lot of dramatic power, but also closes the curtain on a long and fruitful career that came to an unnecessary an premature end. Although Chaplin made two more films before his death, he never made another for the company that he had co-founded many years before.
Criterion strikes again with another terrific Blu-ray release of a Chaplin masterpiece. Limelight has been restored utilizing a 4K digital transfer from the film’s original 35mm negative in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna. The results are outstanding. Grain levels are mostly even throughout the entire film, fluctuating only a minor amount. Even so, a great depth of detail is revealed with remarkable clarity. There were instances where I noticed some frames out of register, causing a doubling effect, but they were also quite minor and not a major distraction. Black levels are very satisfactory, as are shadow details. Contrast is perfect from scene to scene, and the image is quite stable with no artificial enhancements and no major film defects leftover aside from a few scratches in the latter half of the film. The only audio track available is an English mono LPCM track, and it is just as satisfying as the video portion. Dialogue is always perfectly clear, and both score and sound effects have terrific depth to them. There are no dynamic moments to be had, but for a monaural soundtrack, it’s as good as you’d want it to be. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
The supplemental materials on this release are excellent, and they include Chaplin’s Limelight: Its Evolution and Intimacy, a video essay by Chaplin biographer David Robinson; two separate interviews with actors Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd; Chaplin Today: Limelight, a documentary on the film featuring director Bernardo Bertolucci and actors Bloom and Sydney Chaplin; an outtake from the film (which is actually more of a deleted scene); an archival audio recording of Charlie Chaplin reading two excerpts from his novella “Footlights” (which inspired the film); two shorts by Chaplin: A Night in the Show from 1915 and the incomplete The Professor from 1919; two of the film’s theatrical trailers, one in English and one in Italian; and a 40-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by critic Peter von Bagh, as well as an excerpt from United Press staff correspondent Henry Gris.
Criterion knocks it out of the park once again with the Blu-ray release of Limelight, the sixth Chaplin title in their catalogue. One only hopes that future releases might include A Dog’s Life, The Kid, The Circus, or A King in New York, but that’s just my own personal hope. This is a terrific release that, if you’re a film fan, you absolutely must own it. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons