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Chaplin's final American film tells the story of a fading music hall comedian's effort to help a despondent ballet dancer learn both to walk and feel confident about life again. The highlight of the film is the classic duet with Chaplin's only real artistic film comedy rival, Buster Keaton. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
Charlie Chaplin was without a doubt one of the most important pioneers of film-making, and through his life he saw the development of the cinema and its progress. "Limelight" is probably not as well known as most of his silent feature, but it is a very important film to understand the vivacious mind of this genius. It is a very personal film that showcases Chaplin's feelings about his own brand of comedy and how it slowly lost the public's attention as he grew older.
"Limelight" is the story of an old comedian named Calvero (Chaplin), who one morning discovers that his young neighbor Thereza (Claire Bloom) attempted to commit suicide. He decides to take care of her and discovers that she is a dancer; knowing that both share a passion for performing he begins to cheer her up and prepares her to become a great dancer while at the same time he remembers his past glories.
When one watches "Limelight" is impossible not to see the many autobiographical aspects of the plot, as in many ways, Calvero represents how Chaplin feels at the modernization of comedy on stage. Like Chaplin, Calvero also played the character of an optimist tramp who always saw the good side of life, and like Chaplin, Calvero faced many times the urge to modernize his act. It's kind of frightening to think about how much of Calvero's story could be based on Chaplin's real experiences as it is a sharp criticism (for its time) to the way performers are treated by both their managers and their public.
As the last of his "talkies" made in America, "Limelight" is done with all the power Chaplin still had (although the film would be banned as Chaplin lost his power due to his political opinions) and it shows. The stage performances of the characters are sublime and in Calvero's memories Chaplin resurrects a way of comedy apparently dead by the early 50s and makes it fresh. The Keaton/Chaplin duo is a classic moment captured on film. However, "Limelight" is not a comedy in the strict sense of the word. Those expecting a laugh-riot like "Modern Times" or "The Great Dictator" will be disappointed, this is a very personal melodrama where Chaplin his emotions about his career.
The acting is very good, Chaplin may be more remembered for his parts in silent films, but he delivers his lines with ease and ability. His physical comedy is superb and his overall performance is memorable (mainly because it feels as if he was playing himself). Claire Bloom is at times a bit too melodramatic for the movie's sake, but for the most part is very effective and makes a good counterpart to Chaplin's Calvero. Among the supporting cast Nigel Bruce as always chews the scenery and Buster Keaton is simply fabulous in his small yet classic role.
Probably "Limelight"'s main problem is its excess of melodrama, and its at times, excessively preachy attitude. The fact that is not a comedy may turn off people not used to Chaplin's more serious side, as while the movie has its fair share of laughs, it is obvious that Chaplin wanted to be recognized as more than a mere clown. The movie's slow pace and rhythm also put it closer to the melodrama of the 40s than to the image we are all used to see when we think of Chaplin.
Despite all this, "Limelight" stands as a testament of Chaplin's enormous talent, and while not very well-known, it is one of the finest films he ever did. Fans of his work will definitely enjoy this film and fans of Keaton will appreciate his small yet terrific scene. 9/10
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