A common occurrence for me during these month-long blocks is a man named Charlie Chaplin. This will mark the third year in a row I’ve seen a film involving him, and I think I’ll keep that trend going for future Marches. This is a bit of a bittersweet film for him, though, showcasing the parallel between his real-life career twilight and the character’s within. This is the second-to-last film he had a starring role in. Limelight is very appropriately named.
Chaplin’s later years as a filmmaker were far more emotionally charged than the zany, almost cartoonishly wholesome origins of his “Tramp” character. To some extent, I’m glad I started with something more grandiose in The Dictator, allowing me to see the end point of an evolutionary style from the infancy of film. Going into this, I figured it would be deeply sentimental. I was not wrong.
“A fading music hall comedian tries to help a despondent ballet dancer learn to walk and to again feel confident about life.”
Actual (Short) Review
When you put it into perspective, you could almost argue you’ve seen this before you even watch it.
Chaplin’s character, Calvero, is an aging comic whose career is far behind him. Try as he might to obtain some of his former glory, he must come to accept that it’s now in the past. What adds a wrinkle to this otherwise standard (by this point) story is the female lead, Terry, and her own plight. Calvero saves her from suicide in the very beginning, then inspires her to fight for her dreams in the same way he wishes to fight for his own, knowing it’s essentially hopeless.
Their relationship keeps much of the plot of Limelight worth paying attention to. It begins as a sort of empathetic, basic human desire to help one in need, which eventually evolves into something of a mentor/mentee relationship. Their ages play a substantial part in how they view the world and the way they see each other, adding more to the central theme of fading fame at the end of one’s life.
Unfortunately, one’s mileage with this will likely depend on how much these characters’ relationship and ambitions enrapture. For me, it worked decently well for the most part. It lost me somewhat during various performances that hardly focused on the central characters. Perhaps bizarrely, I was attacked by a drowsy spell a couple times during, as well. Bluntness? The black and white glowing upon the whimsy of stardom? Whatever it was, staying conscious proved a little difficult.
There is a lot to appreciate in this, despite whatever dullness may be brought upon by it. Chaplin is absolutely delightful, even in a talkie. His presence is immensely charming, his lines so coated in confidence that it’s easy to believe he fears not one thing, even if most of his words are hollow bravado. The homage to silent-era cinema near the end, where he teams up with Buster Keaton (another person I like) is one of the highlights of the entire film.
Claire Bloom as Terry is also fairly strong, though definitely more wooden than the far more experienced Chaplin. There’s something somewhat strange about performances in these times in that they perhaps prioritized more drama than realism. Bloom definitely delivered here, even if it gave off a sort of melodramatic arousal.
Finding it hard to wrap this up in any coherent way, so I’ll just speak like a neanderthal:
Film good. Chaplin cool. Boring kinda. Losing fame sad.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!
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Thank you for your time. Have a great rest of your day.
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