Sunday, January 26, 2014


Written, directed, and starring Charles Chaplin, Limelight is the story of a washed-up comic who meets a young dancer as he hopes to give her the break that she needed to make it into the big time. The film is an exploration into a man who has been through everything in the world of entertainment as he hopes to help a young woman who feels hopeless in her chance to succeed. Also starring Claire Bloom, Nigel Bruce, Norman Lloyd, Wheeler Dryden, Sydney Earle Chaplin, and Buster Keaton. Limelight is a ravishing film from Charles Chaplin.

Being in the spotlight can give anyone the chance to succeed but there’s also failure as the comedian Calvero (Charles Chaplin) knows that too well as he is washed-up and unable to draw an audience. After meeting a suicidal ballerina in Thereza “Terry” Ambrose (Claire Bloom) whom he saved from a suicide attempt, he decides to help her succeed as she had a lot to live for. It’s a film that is about the old generation helping the new one in some respects but it’s also a love story where Terry falls for Calvero despite his age as he is baffled into why someone so young would fall for him. Calvero would serve as a beacon of confidence for Terry but Calvero himself comes into his own issues as he’s reluctant to return to the stage in fear of failing. At the same time, he’s not sure if he wants to be successful since he’s already done so much and just wants to perform without any kind of pressure.

Chaplin’s screenplay is filled with some very strong dialogue to play into this relationship where Calvero helps Terry to get her hopes up as well as some commentary on fickleness of fame. Notably as there’s scenes of Calvero reflecting on his days when he was a success but finds himself facing a reality when his act that includes him singing and doing things with fleas aren’t captivating audiences like they did back then. Calvero reluctantly accepts that reality as he resigns himself to getting drunk until he smells gas as he finds Terry passed out early in the film as he saves her from death. Terry is a young woman who has experienced a lot of disappointments and such that plays into her despair as she would be unable to walk due to her low self-esteem.

Once she does become a star with Calvero watching from behind as he would play a clown in one of her ballets. He prefers to stay away so she can have her moment in the limelight yet she wants to share with Calvero which he politely refuses. Especially when it involves the presence of a young composer Terry met some years ago when she was working in a store as that man has become successful. The character of Neville (Sydney Earle Chaplin) is a man, who like Terry, also suffered from low self-esteem but success as a composer has made him confident yet still pines for Terry. Terry is unsure about Neville due to her devotion for Calvero but realizes that she has to do things for herself since Calvero won’t be around for long despite the temptation of making a major comeback.

Chaplin’s direction is pretty simple in terms of its compositions yet he manages to create something that is very engaging in his approach to humor and drama. Notably in the way he presents the drama with some very entrancing close-ups and medium shots to convey the unique relationship between Calvero and Terry. Even as much of that relationship is set in Calvero’s apartment where it is filled with posters of Calvero when he was a star as the film is set in the 1910s. The use of flashbacks early in the film is crucial to Chaplin’s vision in not just how good Calvero was but also a brief glimpse into Terry’s life and the moment she first met Neville. The film’s second act begins six months after Calvero and Terry had met where they strive to succeed where Terry gets her break while Calvero is just happy to get a job.

The presentation of the ballets that Terry is in are truly exquisite with Chaplin employing some wide camera angles to present the beauty of her dancing (as it’s performed by dancing-double Melissa Hayden). The film’s climax not only involves Calvero getting one last chance at greatness but it’s also a moment where Chaplin brings in one of his great film rivals in Buster Keaton as Calvero’s partner for this extremely hilarious sequence in their stage performance. It’s a real highlight in the film where Chaplin not only brings in the elements of the past that has made him famous but also to showcase that he can still manage to create something that is still touching no matter how much the times have changed. Overall, Chaplin creates a truly delightful yet heart-wrenching film about two people working together to succeed in the entertainment business during changing times.

Cinematographer Karl Struss does amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography for its intricate use of shadows and shading in the scenes in the stage to convey the sense of a world that is changing that Calvero couldn‘t be a part of. Editor Joe Inge does excellent work with the editing in not just creating some stylish dissolves but also use some transitional fade-outs and rhythmic cuts to play with its humor. Art director Eugene Lourie does fantastic work with the look of the apartment as well as some of the stage setting for the ballets. Costume designer Riley Thorne does dazzling work with the film’s period costumes from the suits that Calvero wears to the dresses that Terry wears.

Makeup artist Ted Larsen does nice work with the makeup work in the look of Calvero when he‘s on stage as well as Terry‘s makeup in her ballet performances. Sound editor Harold E. McGhan does terrific work with some of the film‘s sound effects as well as capturing some of the natural sounds in some of the film‘s different locations. The film’s music by Charles Chaplin is exquisite with its rich and delightful orchestral score that ranges from being comical to being somber in order to convey the many different moods in the film.

The film’s cast is marvelous as it includes appearances from Chaplin’s young children including Geraldine Chaplin as the kids Calvero runs into early in the film. Other notable small roles include Wheeler Dryden as the doctor who checks on Terry, Norman Lloyd as Calvero’s agent and Nigel Bruce as the very jovial impresario Postant. Sydney Earle Chaplin is excellent as the composer Neville who has always pined for Terry as he becomes aware of her relationship with Calvero. In a small yet fabulous role, Buster Keaton is hilarious as Calvero’s partner where he gets some funny lines late in the film yet it is the musical duet he has with Chaplin that is just truly unforgettable in its humor that showcases a performance from two great comedy actors that will never be seen ever again.

Claire Bloom is just radiant as Terry as this very troubled young woman who is unsure if she is to succeed as she finally does gain success but wants to share with Calvero as she is determined to become the devoted love of his life no matter how old he is. Finally, there’s Charles Chaplin in a very touching performance as Calvero where Chaplin brings a great sense of humility and wisdom to a man who faces the truth about his career while dealing with changing times as it’s Chaplin showcasing his range as a dramatic actor while also being very funny as he brings element of the Tramp to the performance as it’s certainly one of his most moving performances.

Limelight is a rapturous yet heart-wrenching film from Charles Chaplin that features one of his finest performances along with an outstanding one from Claire Bloom. The film is truly one of his great works not just in terms of its humor but also in the drama that it conveys. The film also features a moment where Chaplin and Buster Keaton show what they can do together as the two rivals create something that is magical. In the end, Limelight is a spectacular film from Charles Chaplin.

Charles Chaplin Films: (Twenty Minutes of Love) - (Caught in the Rain) - (A Busy Day) - (Her Friend the Bandit) - (Mabel’s Married Life) - (Laughing Gas) - (The Face On the Bar Room Floor) - (Recreation) - (The Masquerader) - (His New Profession) - The Rounders - (The Property Man) - (The New Janitor) - (Those Love Pangs) - (Dough & Dynamite) - (Gentlemen of Nerve) - (His Musical Career) - (His Trysting Place) - (Getting Acquainted) - (His Prehistoric Past) - (His New Job) - (A Night Out) - (The Champion) - (In the Park) - (A Jitney Elopement) - (The Tramp) - (By the Sea (1915 film)) - (His Regeneration) - (Work (1915 film) - (A Woman) - (The Bank) - (Shanghaied) - (A Night in the Snow) - (Burlesque on Carmen) - (Police (1916 film)) - (Triple Trouble) - (The Floorwalker) - (The Fireman) - (The Vagabond) - (One A.M. (1916 film)) - (The Count) - (The Pawnshop) - (Behind the Screen) - (The Rink) - (Easy Street) - (The Cure (1917 film)) - (The Immigrant (1917 film)) - (The Adventurer) - A Dog’s Life - (The Bond) - Shoulder Arms - Sunnyside - A Day’s Pleasure - (The Professor) - The Kid - The Idle Class - Pay Day - The Pilgrim - A Woman of Paris - The Gold Rush - The Circus - City Lights - Modern Times - The Great Dictator - Monsieur Verdoux - A King in New York - (A Countess from Hong Kong)

© thevoid99 2014


Anonymous said...

I love that you're reviewing all these Chaplin films. Love this one so much!!!

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I have one more film to do for now and then continue my exploration into silent cinema which will end for early next month.

Chris said...

I didn't love Limelight quite as much as you, the ballet sequences kind of washed over me, yet it was special to see Buster Keaton and Chaplin together, their piano/violin sequence was my favorite scene. Agree the score was superb, and deserved that oscar.
The strength of the movie for me are the characters, who I wanted to see lead a happy life. The message I got is that encouragement is important as a performer/artist. And it’s always easier to give advice, than take advice.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-I think the strength of the film are its characters and its desire to succeed no matter how bad the obstacles are. The scene with Chaplin and Keaton is truly a highlight as I think it was a good thing from Chaplin to give Keaton his moment.