Monday, January 2, 2012

Day 257 - Limelight

Limelight (1952) directed by Charlie Chaplin

Yesterday I watched The Artist, a film about a once great silent film star who's fallen on hard times. Today I watched Limelight which stars Charlie Chaplin, who plays a once great clown who's fallen on hard times. Chaplin, of course, would not end up like George Valentin from The Artist. He was one of the few silent stars who was able to find success after the silent era with such films as The Great Dictator and by 1952, the year Limelight was released, he was still rich and famous. Yet Calvero the clown may be Chaplin's most personal role. By this time he was nearing the end of his illustrious career and was going through a tumultuous time in his personal life, facing endless lawsuits and accusations of being a communist. In fact, Limelight would be Chaplin's last American made film as he was essentially not allowed to re-enter the country for his un-American ideas. This film was mired in his personal troubles and it shows in the character of Calvero.

Here is Calvero, a once great performer long forgotten and resigned to live out the rest of his life quietly. He still dreams of his past performances but knows those days are behind him. One day he rescues Terry, a young ballet dancer, from an attempted suicide and nurses her back to health. As is typically the case in these scenarios the two flawed characters heal each other. Calvero tries to get Terry to see the point in living and encourages her to keep on dancing. In turn, he is inspired to attempt a comeback. When that fails, it is Terry who encourages him.

While watching it is easy to focus on the relationship between Calvero and Terry, but Limelight is really about watching the end of Calvero's (read Chaplin's) career. For all intents and purposes, Chaplin intended this to be his swan song and the film touches upon these issues with the sentimentality that he was known for. If this were to really be the end, he intended to go out gracefully. Of course Calvero does get his last big shot in the end and brings down the house just like old times.

Limelight isn't my favorite Chaplin film and it is not the Chaplin that I will remember. This film is almost entirely a serious drama; I prefer the magical comedy of The Tramp. However it does show the growth and maturity of not just an actor, but of a man who realizes his time has come.

Note: Buster Keaton makes a famous cameo in a scene alongside Chaplin, the first and only time the two legends appear together on screen. I couldn't even recognize Keaton but after re-watching the scene you could definitely tell that these two guys still had the body language and acting of silent stars.

Grade: B

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