Bosley Crowther, the New York Times's movie critic at the time of this movie's release, concluded his review with the words "'Limelight' is a very moving film." To my surprise, I agree with him. Although as it was chugging along, I thought it was often verbose, sluggishly paced, only fitfully amusing, and heavy on philosophising, when its famous theme swelled up in the orchestra for the final scene, I burst into tears. It was evident that Chaplin's tale of age giving way to youth had been quietly working on my feelings. You've got to hand it to the guy: after a lifetime making movies, he knew what he was about.
One of LIMELIGHT's most fascinating aspects is Chaplin's take on audiences. We see his hero, the vaudevillian Calvero, play his old act twice: first, in a half-empty, emptying theatre; second, before an enthusiastic packed house. The act, though, is the same: there's no sense of a difference between the way Chaplin/Calvero plays it the first time and the second. The early audience decides it doesn't like it, the later audience decides it does. Such haphazard behaviour would be enough to wear anyone down in any relationship. Chaplin powerfully conveys the emotional cost of being at the receiving end of the public's whims.
At the opposite stage of her life is Theresa, a young ballet dancer, whose confidence has left her. Even as the flame of Calvero's own self-respect flickers, he is able to ignite Theresa's. The role was a huge break for Claire Bloom, not an actress for whom I have great admiration, but she does OK here, with youth on her side. Elsewhere, there are such delights as Majorie Bennett, Buster Keaton, and Chaplin's own beautiful score.
I don't know whether, when all's said and done, it's a masterpiece or not, and maybe it's helpful to be an old person like me to get the best out of it, but, once seen, it's unforgettable.
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