Home > Reviews > LIMELIGHT – Charles Chaplin, Raymond Rasch, and Larry Russell

LIMELIGHT – Charles Chaplin, Raymond Rasch, and Larry Russell

limelightMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Charles Chaplin produced, directed, wrote the screenplay and starred in Limelight, a story is set in London, 1914 on the eve of World War I. Calvero (Chaplin) is a famous stage clown who has fallen on bad times and descended into alcoholism. By chance he comes to rescue Terry (Claire Bloom) from herself, as she was poised to commit suicide. He shelters her and helps to heal her, and in so doing, heals himself, regaining his confidence and will to live. Terry falls in love with Calvero, but he believes the age difference is wrong, and that the younger Neville (Sydney Chaplin) would be a more appropriate match. And so Calvero sets off on his own, becoming a street entertainer. Terry rebounds and lands a leading role in a stage production. She is thankful for her new life and so invites Calvero to return to his first love, the stage. He agrees, and reunites with his old partner (Buster Keaton) and brings the house down with a magnificent performance. At this grand moment, tragedy strikes as he succumbs to a heart attack during the second act while Terry is performing. The film is a a truly remarkable achievement, with a stellar cast that supports his passion project. Noteworthy is the fact that in the final musical number we bear witness to the only time Chaplin and Keaton – two iconic actors – ever performed together.

Although the censoring of the film hurt its domestic sales, it was a commercial success outside of the US. Its 1972 debut in Los Angeles met with critical acclaim and so it received one Academy Award nomination for best Film Score, which it won. Interestingly, although the film was made in 1952, Chaplin, who was touring Europe and promoting the film, was denied re-entry into the United States as he was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. Senator McCarthy’s notorious Un-American Activities Committee was targeting Hollywood and unfortunately Chaplin became one of many casualties. American theaters as such refused to release his movie for viewing. In 1972, it was finally released in the United States and Academy rules therefore allowed it to be eligible for awards.

Chaplin, who scores the majority of his own films during his career, wrote the score with fellow composers Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell. Rasch was a pianist and arranger on the Hollywood scene in 1950s and 1960s, while Russell was an American composer working mostly in the motion picture industry, and is best remembered as being one of three writers of the song “Vaya Con Dios”, which has been recorded over 500 times. Rasch died in 1964 and Russell died in 1954, meaning that their Academy Award wins for this score were posthumous.

The score is anchored by the Terry’s Theme, which serves as her identity. It is ever present in the score providing unity, often as accents in the many fragmentary tracks such as 9, 14, 19, and 25. So popular was the melody, that it was provided lyrics by Geoff Parson and John Turner, and made a song called “Eternally”. The score earned Chaplin the only Academy Award win of his long career (he had previously received two honorary Oscars.) The score has only a limited promotional release with none of the 36 tracks titled.

“Track 1” supports the Opening Credits and begins dramatically with a potent prelude, which ushers in Terry’s Theme born on sumptuous violins adorned with woodwinds delicato and harps in the finest traditions of the Golden Age. “Track 2” reveals a London street where we see a street organ driver playing. The music is carnivalesque and supports our journey into a house where we see Terry laying in bed holding a vial, and unconscious. A drunken Calvero staggers home and is barely able to open the door. “Track 3” Terry wakes up in Calvero’s room and he relates how he saved her life. Her theme sounds, carried by strings doloroso. As he admonishes her for seeking to end her life, solo oboe takes up her theme. What a pretty cue. “Track 5” reveals a street band of organ, violin and clarinet playing as Calvero falls to sleep. We segue to vaudeville like stage show with Calvero singing a little ditty. The song is comedic, full of fun and very entertaining! At 1:54 we transition to an orchestral rendering of the song as Calvero begins his flea show. We flow with a light, carefree energy, which endears us to Calvero. After the applause he looks out and is despondent to see an empty playhouse, and he wakes from his dream.

In “Track 7” the two have bonded, go to sleep in different quarters, and Calvero again falls into a slumberous dreamscape. A pastorale of woodwinds carries us back to the stage and to another Calvero stage act, which offers a recitation of a love sonnet, Ode To A Worm, which takes off on an accelerando for a most spirited song that carries his dancing! “Track 8” reveals Terry joining him on stage and she becomes smitten by his charm. Chaplin supports the moment with a classic florid string line, quintessential Golden Age romanticism. In “Track 11” Terry relates to Calvero her encounter with Neville, a dashing young composer, who she found attractive. He is a pianist and Chaplin supports her tale with a twinkling piece of gentility, which flows like a streamlet, yet there is a subtle tinge of sadness in the notes. “Track 15” offers Calvero in despair having suffered the indignity of the audience walking out on his act and he being fired. As he ebbs, Terry crests and exhorts him to rejoin the fight as he once asked of her. When she realizes she has regained the use of her legs, Chaplin supports their joy with celebratory strings, which restores both of them.

Six months later in “Track 16” we are at the Empire Theater, and a chorus of dancers, which includes Terry, graces the stage in an exotic dance. Chaplin supports the scene with a festive gypsy-like piece. In “Track 17” Terry returns home to find Calvero playing with the street quartet, which Chaplin supports with Beethoven. “Track 18” reveals Terry meeting Neville again who is the pianist. They recognize each other and she dances for the theatre owner. Chaplin offers Terry’s Theme played dramatically by piano as though a concerto concert piece. She dances divinely and earns the prima ballerina role! In “Track 21” Neville and Terry are dining and he relates how he felt about her when she worked at the music shop. Sumptuous strings flow with a forthright lyricism and unabashed romanticism rendering their Love Theme. This track offers a score’s highlight, which informs us of their nascent love. Bravo!

“Track 22” offers a magnificent score highlight. It opens dramatically and grandly upon her theme and features the play’s final scene where Terry’s character is dying with her lover and the clowns standing vigil. She asked to be carried to the window to look out one last time, and this is supported by a more romantic, and lyrical rendering of her theme. The clowns weep, and she asks them to perform. They oblige and the music becomes playful, comedic and farcical as they perform. As ballerina enter and dance the music shifts to and fro with gentility and lightness of being. Terry succumbs and dies and the pathetique unfolds to carry the grief. I light and spirited dance unfolds as we see her lover dancing with his magic wand in the graveyard. He uses the wand in a futile attempt to resurrect her. The music again lightens as dancing ballerina spirits enter and tell him not to despair, consoling him that her spirit is everywhere. And truth be told terry enters with romantic elegance upon her theme and we are treated to a perfect marriage of dance, imagery and music.

“Track 23” reveals a sumptuous dining reception being held to honor and celebrate Terry’s triumph. The music flows as a gentile waltz, offering a perfect ambiance, and opportunity, which Neville uses to invite Terry to dance. In “Track 24”, a score highlight, a carriage has taken Neville and Terry home from the gala, as she was worried about Calvero. Neville has been drafted and confesses his love for Terry as Calvero listens on the other side of the door. We are graced with a wonderful expression of the Love Theme with all its sumptuous splendor! Calvero leaves Terry, believing she would have a better life with Neville, a man her own age. “Track 28” reveals Calvero now making a living as a street musician. A plaintive violin line supports his efforts collecting tips from the patrons. In “Track 29” Terry sees Calvero after many months and begs him to come to her. He refuses, but she succeeds in convincing him to return to the theater. A plaintive rendering of her theme supports the scene, reflecting her feeling for the man who saved her life and restored he to her career.

In “Track 33” Calvero returns in a comedy skit and the playful music supports his silly antics on stage. The crowd demands an encore so he returns to the stage as a violinist with Keaton the comedic pianist. A spirited piece by string and woodwinds animato carry his antics as he performs silly slapstick skits. Eventually Keaton organizes his music sheets, which he has been fumbling and they try to tune their instruments. In “Track 34” they finally get their act together and manage to play a florid violin melody with piano accompaniment followed by a presto paced piece which ends with Calvero falling into the orchestra pit and being carried out in a kettle drum! “Track 35” is a marvelous score highlight, which reveals that Calvero has suffered a heart attack and Terry comes to his side. She is called to dance and he senses his time has come and so chooses to watch her perform one last time rather than be taken to the hospital. We hear her theme with all its resplendent beauty as she dances divinely, and he passes side stage. Wow. “Track 36” offers a sumptuous waltz that supports the roll of the End credits. Bravo!

It was a tragedy that the terrible Cold War politics of the 1950s banished this supremely gifted man and his movie from America. That it returned 20 years later and secured him a Oscar, is poetic. I was completely unfamiliar with both the film and the score. The Academy selections that year were very weak, and it is no surprise to me that this score brought home the win. The score is written with Golden Age sensibilities and it immediately captures your heart with the timeless melody that it Terry’s Theme. The secondary Love Theme for Neville and Terry is more ardent and just as sumptuous with its eloquence, lyricism and innate beauty. In my judgment, this score must secure a formal CD release, and when it does, I highly recommend you purchase it.

I have embedded a YouTube link for the wonderful Terry’s Theme for those of you unfamiliar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rl47EmHmSaY

Track Listing:

  • Track 1 (1:26)
  • Track 2 (1:18)
  • Track 3 (1:21)
  • Track 4 (0:25)
  • Track 5 (5:10)
  • Track 6 (0:34)
  • Track 7 (1:47)
  • Track 8 (1:37)
  • Track 9 (0:20)
  • Track 10 (0:31)
  • Track 11 (1:12)
  • Track 12 (0:24)
  • Track 13 (0:25)
  • Track 14 (0:40)
  • Track 15 (0:28)
  • Track 16 (1:24)
  • Track 17 (0:44)
  • Track 18 (1:23
  • Track 19 (022)
  • Track 20 (0:30)
  • Track 21 (1:25)
  • Track 22 (10:04)
  • Track 23 (1:35)
  • Track 24 (1:40)
  • Track 25 (0:39)
  • Track 26 (0:36)
  • Track 27 (0:17)
  • Track 28 (1:06)
  • Track 29 (2:34)
  • Track 30 (1:49)
  • Track 31 (1:18)
  • Track 32 (1:19)
  • Track 33 (5:07)
  • Track 34 (1:59)
  • Track 35 (2:29)
  • Track 36 (1:30)

Running Time: 57 minutes 14 seconds

Tavesoch International Classics TAVES-0121 (1952)

Music composed by Charles Chaplin. Conducted by Keith Williams. Additional music and arrangements by Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell. Score produced by Charles Chaplin.

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  1. Peter Toth
    October 10, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    I’ve seen Craig Lysy’s You Tube video in which one hears ‘Terry’s Theme’ (‘Eternally’) from ‘Limelight’ played by a solo violinist and orchestra. The video clip is described as ‘original’ but it doesn’t sound to me as though this performance would have been from the original sound track of a film made in 1952. Am I incorrect?

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