Limelight (1952 – DVD)

“This has been a wonderful evening, I’d like to continue… but I’m stuck”

I’m still only half way through my Charlie Chaplin box-set and I’ve come onto 1952’s ‘Limelight’. It was released at a time when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had revoked Chaplin’s American visa at the height of the McCarthy era forcing him to live in Europe. Seeing that the plot is about a forgotten tramp comedian called Calvero from the same area of London where Charlie learned his trade, you’d think it was filmed as a response to his troubles. But ‘Limelight’ was actually entirely filmed on the backlot in Hollywood and it was only when Chaplin travelled to the London premiere that he was informed he could not return to the country he had made his home for nearly forty years.

It’s a beautifully nostalgic and quietly tragic film dwelling on life, love, death and self belief.  Most of Charlie’s previous films are about optimistic characters who are larger than life but in ‘Limelight’ Calvero and the young ballet dancer (Claire Bloom) he befriends are lonely damaged souls that seem crushed by the weight of life.  Terry the dancer has a deep psychological problem that has convinced her she can’t walk and Calvero has turned to the bottle.  Most of the movie is confined to the claustrophobic set of Calvero’s flat with the two leads helping each other build up the courage to face the outside world that they are each hiding from.  The film climaxes with a Music-hall revue featuring Chaplin doing a side-splitting double act with his great silent film rival Buster Keaton, which is the only time they appeared together on-screen.  So far, from this box set, it seems that unlike a lot of Directors, Chaplin only got better with age.

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