Limelight (1952) (Warner)

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Released 3-Dec-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio
Introduction-David Robinson (Chaplin Biographer)
Featurette-Chaplin Today - Limelight
Deleted Scenes
Audio-Only Track-Original Score
Featurette-Footlights - Two Short Excerpts, Read By Charles Chaplin
Short Film-The Professor (1919)
Featurette-Home Movies - USA 1950, London 1959
Theatrical Trailer-2
Gallery-Photo-200 Production Stills, Preparatory Sketches
Gallery-Poster
Trailer-Scenes From Films In The Chaplin Collection
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1952
Running Time 131:34
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (68:40)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Version Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Lionello De Felice
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Cornel Wilde
Belinda Lee
Massimo Serato
Christine Kaufmann
Elisa Cegani
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $34.95 Music Mario Nascimbene


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Spanish
French
Italian
Portuguese
Danish
Finnish
Icelandic
Norwegian
Swedish
Croatian
Czech
Greek
Hungarian
Polish
Turkish
Hebrew
Russian
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    London, 1914. Calvero (Charles Chaplin), once a great music hall comedian, is now an alcoholic. Arriving home drunk, he smells gas coming from another apartment in his boarding house, and breaks down the door. Inside he finds Thereza (Claire Bloom), a ballerina, lying unconscious. Calvero carries her to his room and cares for her while she recovers. Thereza, or Terry as she prefers to be called, discovers she cannot walk. Her doctor tells Calvero there is nothing physically wrong with Terry and that she is suffering from hysterical paralysis. Eventually Terry overcomes her paralysis and, encouraged by Calvero, starts to make her way in the ballet world.

    Calvero finds new motivation in his relationship with Terry and attempts a return to the stage. But he can only get small engagements at which he is an abject failure. At this point in the story, the tables turn and it is Terry who has to provide support and encouragement to Calvero. While she tells him that she loves him, she is really in love with Mr Neville (Sydney Chaplin), a young composer who is also making his way in the world. Calvero realises this and abandons Terry. Turning again to drink, Calvero ends up busking for coins in the street. He again meets Terry, who arranges for him to be employed as a clown in her ballet. A benefit concert is arranged for Calvero, but things do not turn out as expected...

    Chaplin was a veteran of the English music hall, the milieu of Limelight, and while on a tour of America with the Fred Karno troupe was invited by Keystone Studios to appear in their films. He created the character of the Little Tramp while at Keystone, and within a couple of years of his screen debut Charlie Chaplin was the most famous movie star, and possibly the most famous person, in the world. Soon Chaplin was feeling restricted by Mack Sennett's production line methods, and after working at several other studios he branched out on his own. A co-founder of United Artists, he moved into feature film production in 1921. Slowly the gap between each new Chaplin film increased, and after the 1920s he would release only two films each decade.

    Chaplin made just two more films after this, both of which were financial and artistic failures. Limelight came at a watershed in his life. Chaplin had been widely criticised in the United States for his left-wing views, and given the anti-Communist hysteria at the time, decided to premiere Limelight in London. Two days after leaving the US the State Department revoked his re-entry permit. Rather than return to America through the immigration process, Chaplin chose to make his home in Switzerland, and did not return to the United States until 1972.

    Chaplin not only appears in the film, he produced, directed, wrote the screenplay and composed the music. Despite being well made and well constructed, Limelight is not one of his better films. Chaplin knew the music halls of England intimately, and the sequences set on the stage have the ring of authenticity, even though the entire film was shot in Hollywood. However, too much of the screen time is taken up with speeches expounding the two lead characters' philosophies. This self-indulgence makes the dialogue seem artificial and creates a distance between the characters and the audience.

    The stage sequences, apart from the ballet, recreate comic routines of the era. Unfortunately, the comedy is not particularly funny. Chaplin has lost little of his agility or timing, but the material he is working with is thin. The slow pacing does not help. Even the presence of the great Buster Keaton in the final benefit concert sequence does not enliven proceedings, as he is given very little to do. The only time that Chaplin and Keaton appeared on screen together must be considered a wasted opportunity.

    I should mention here that Limelight was a commercial and critical success almost everywhere it screened, and that a lot of people think this is a very fine film indeed.

    Claire Bloom was chosen for her first film appearance after a lengthy search by Chaplin for a suitable actress. She makes a reasonable fist of the role of Terry, but the dialogue, combined with Bloom's lack of film experience, makes her delivery sound mannered and theatrical. Vocally, her performance would not have been out of place in the Hollywood of twenty years earlier.

    Limelight was a family affair. Chaplin's son Sydney, a stage actor, appears as the composer Mr Neville. The three children in the opening scene are all Chaplins, one of whom, Geraldine, went on to star in such films as Doctor Zhivago. Charles Chaplin Jr. makes an appearance as a clown in the ballet sequence. Also present are Chaplin's wife and half-brother, as the featurette on disc two shows.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a disappointing transfer, especially given the quality of the source material.

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, closely approximating the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1.

    Limelight has been painstakingly restored from elements from Chaplin's own archive. Apart from a few white flecks in the opening credits, there are almost no film artefacts to be seen.

    The opening credits suffer from telecine wobble, though this is relatively mild and undistracting.

    The real problem for me is the constant presence of motion blurring. When objects are static, they are reasonably sharp. However, whenever the camera or objects move, they become indistinct. This can be seen during the opening segment (1:48), when as the camera moves towards and pans across the door to Calvero's apartment building, the vertical ridges on the door frame almost disappear.

    Aliasing is present at various points during the film, for example at 33:40.

    Edge enhancement is also present throughout. There is a thin halo around most objects, particularly darker ones, such as Calvero's sleeve at 37:35. This was very noticeable on a 68cm screen, and even on a 17" monitor, so viewers with larger displays should beware.

    Shadow detail is poor for a film of this vintage, as if the contrast level of the transfer was set too high.

    The English subtitles are general faithful to the dialogue, although some words and phrases are omitted for the sake of brevity. I did not review the numerous other subtitles.

    Disc 1 is an RSDL formatted disc. I did not notice the layer change, which occurs at 77:13. Disc 2 is a dual layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The film has three audio tracks.

    There is a Dolby Digital 2.0 English mono track, which is closest to the original sound format. I found this track difficult to listen to. Sibilant sounds are overemphasised, and distortion is present in the upper frequency range. This was not a pleasant listening experience.

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, despite being inauthentic, is much better. While the sibilance issue is still there, it is less noticeable than on the 2.0 track. Otherwise the 5.1 mix has been very well done. Rear channels tend only to be used when music is playing and add nicely to the overall ambience. Dialogue is directed to the centre channel and is clear. I had no trouble understanding all of the dialogue despite the problems with 's' sounds. I did not notice any use of the subwoofer.

    There is also a dubbed German language Dolby 2.0 soundtrack. As dubbing efforts go, this appears to be fairly much in sync with the actor's lip movements, although I only sampled this track

    Audio sync was not an issue, except of course with the German language soundtrack.

    The music score was composed by Chaplin, and is quite good, if a little overripe at times. Because Limelight was not shown in Los Angeles until 1972, it was eligible for the Academy Awards that year, and Chaplin and his arrangers won the Best Musical Score Oscar. Nino Rota's wonderful score for The Godfather was also nominated in 1972, but the nomination was withdrawn as some of that score had been used by Rota in an earlier film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are contained entirely on Disc Two. Unless otherwise stated, all audio tracks on this disc are Dolby 2.0.

Introduction (5:42)

    Chaplin biographer David Robinson discusses the historical and political context to the film, over scenes from the film and archival footage. Although this is only short, some of the details are misleading (for example the reason given for Chaplin's exile from the United States) and Robinson fluffs a couple of his lines. This should have been fixed during the production process.

    Two audio languages are available: English and French.

Chaplin Today (26:37)

    This featurette details the background to the production, distribution and impact of Limelight through archive footage and interviews with Sydney Chaplin, Claire Bloom and Bernardo Bertolucci. This is a very good introduction to the film, although purists might be bemused by the creative pronunciations of the surnames of Paulette Goddard and Rollie Totheroh. The featurette concludes with the outdoor screening of the restored film in Bologna, Italy, in 2002.

    French language audio is available on this item, but only by selecting French from the language selection menu displayed when inserting the disc.

Deleted Scene (4:29)

    This scene was deleted after the premiere of the film, probably because the movie was overlong. It is in fact two scenes: firstly Calvero meets the new maid, then he bumps into his old friend Claudius, the armless wonder. The footage has been restored to the same quality as the main feature. I'm surprised that this footage was deleted, as it works quite well, and there are numerous other scenes that the film could have done without.

Original Score (58:13)

    The music from the soundtrack has been isolated and is presented with stills from the film. Each of the tracks has its own still, but all 36 track selection numbers are constantly displayed on screen. This would probably be annoying for some viewers, although I doubt whether anyone would sit through the score and watch the screen at the same time. The music does not exist as a separate track from the rest of the soundtrack, so sounds made by the actors can be heard on some tracks. The songs are also included.

Footlights (2:24)

    Two excerpts from the novel Footlights, which Chaplin wrote as preparation for writing the screenplay of Limelight, and read by Chaplin. This is of marginal interest.

The Professor (6:25)

    This is an amusing short film from 1919 which was abandoned before completion. Chaplin plays the trainer of a flea circus, in a departure from his usual character of the Little Tramp. This skit prefigures the flea circus sketch in Limelight. The picture quality is as good as can be expected from a film of this vintage. There is no soundtrack

Home Movies (16:15)

    There are two sequences of home movies here. The first set were taken in the United States in 1950, and mainly features the Chaplin children. The second set dates from 1959 and shows Chaplin in front of numerous old buildings, which were places he lived and worked in in his youth. Annoyingly, no information is given as to what these buildings are or what part they played in Chaplin's life.

    This colour footage, presumably taken by a 16mm camera, is in good condition but has not been restored. The soundtrack consists solely of the sound of a projector. I could not imagine anyone wanting to view this footage more than once.

Trailers (4:25)

    Two unrestored trailers, both of which are grainy, dark and full of film artefacts. The first is in English from the American release, and the second is in Italian. These are worth watching once.

Photo Gallery

    According to the insert, there are 200 photographs here, though I did not count them. They are grouped into sections as follows: Limelight; Deleted Scenes; Shooting; Sets and Production Sketches; Charles Chaplin; The Actors; Limelight in the Theaters; Chaplin and Keaton by W. Eugene Smith.

    Each photograph is displayed for 4 seconds, except for the Chaplin and Keaton set, which are displayed for 9 seconds each. It is possible to skip to the next photograph using the remote. Some of the photos are of marginal interest only. In the section on Sets and Production Sketches, each image is followed by a short clip from the film where the setting was used.

Film Posters

    18 posters for Limelight in various languages. This is worth looking at, if only once.

The Chaplin Collection

    Included here are 10 short clips from new and upcoming releases in the Chaplin Collection. The source materials appear to be in good condition, however the same caveats as regards the transfer quality must be made. The clips are from the following films:

    The Kid (2:16)
    A Woman of Paris (1:58)
    The Gold Rush (1:46)
    The Circus (2:13)
    City Lights (2:39)
    Modern Times (1:50)
    The Great Dictator (2:32)
    Monsieur Verdoux (2:46)
    Limelight  (2:33)
    A King in New York (2:37)

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This DVD is coded for Regions 2, 4 and 5. The content of the DVD is the same in all regions. The original transfers on this material were done by MK2 for Region 2 and then converted to NTSC for release in Region 1. Overseas reviews indicate that the quality of the Region 1 discs is poorer than the Region 2 as a result of this conversion.

Summary

     Limelight is an lesser Chaplin film presented with a less than average transfer. The transfer really needs to be redone in order to do full justice to the material.

    The video quality is disappointing, given the pristine quality of the restored source material.

    The audio quality is disappointing, particularly the two-channel English track.

    The extras package is well put together and contains some interesting material.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, December 19, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony KV-XS29M33 68cm Trinitron Wega. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V596 for surround channels; Yamaha AX-590 as power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Richter Harlequin; Rear: Pioneer S-R9; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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