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Limelight: The Chaplin Collection

Limelight wasn't Charlie Chaplin's last film, but it was his swan song. Premiering in 1952 when Chaplin was 63 years old, this melancholy reverie is a heartfelt expression of nostalgia for the Edwardian London music-halls of his youth, rich with deeply personal sentiment and warmly realized autobiographical fantasy. Watching the gray-haired genius play the has-been old stage clown, Calvero, is a fascinating treat for Chaplin enthusiasts. Long gone is the silent Little Tramp, and like Chaplin, Calvero is a storied yet faded comedian whose glory years are in the past and who desires to be embraced again by the mass audience that he has lost. Entering stone drunk a 1914 London that's stylized with the gauzy, gas-lamp aura of a Dickens novel, Calvero overcomes the ravages of alcohol and the harsh fickleness of the audiences that have abandoned him. By the end of Limelight, he returns triumphant to the stage, awash in the applause of a crowd that has come to watch him recreate the vaudevillian routines that made him famous many years before. Calvero's catalyst and Muse is Terry, an aspiring ballet dancer (20-year-old Claire Bloom's impressive screen debut), who the clown saves from attempted suicide and nurses back to health. Together they pull themselves back to the footlights where they belong, bolstered by the power of dedication, mutual love, and the-show-must-go-on pluck, plus Calvero's abundant epigrammatic platitudes on matters of life, love, death, the cosmos, and the transcendent value of Art. Limelight is also a pulpy melodrama, an unembarrassed three-hanky potboiler that was antique decades before writer-director-composer-star Chaplin made it. It is overlong, schmaltzy, awfully proud of being "bittersweet," and self-indulgent in a way that smudges the line between self-referential and self-reverential. If you're not already a Chaplin fan, Limelight will be difficult to sit still through. But if you're willing to surrender to the excesses of its sometimes cloying plot and dialogue, and absorb it as patriarchal Charles Chaplin — who's splendid to behold — projecting a sincere emotional daydream onto celluloid, this elegy will satisfy amiably. This two-disc DVD release, part of MK2 and Warners' Chaplin Collection, presents the film with an excellent print and sound (including a fine 5.1 option). Extras include an introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson, a good Chaplin Today documentary, a deleted scene, a clip from an unfinished 1919 short, Chaplin family home movies, and more. Dual-chambered keep-case in paperboard sleeve.
—Mark Bourne

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