Limelight

Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight is a 1952 film about a washed-up, alcoholic stage performer (Chaplin) and a suicidal but promising dancer (Claire Bloom), who he nurses back to health; to different extents they inspire and encourage one another to tread the boards once more. Chaplin’s own father went through similar travails as his popularity dwindled at the end of the 19th century, though the director always maintained that Limelight was to some extent based on the life and career of stage actor Frank Tinney. There’s something of Charlie Chaplin’s own ups and downs in there, too, with various nods toward his retired Tramp character and former glory days. The film certainly captures the tragic nature of a great performer as he nears the end, with Chaplin’s luvvie Calvero gamely carrying on despite changes in audiences’ tastes, as it’s the only thing he’s ever done. Chaplin only made two more features after this, his last Hollywood film (though it’s set in England), and although it’s a melancholic affair there’s still humour and energy and kindness emanating from the great star’s character. Bloom, here at the beginning of her long film and stage career, is good but occasionally required to be hysterical, and the washed-up star narrative is underlined by the appearance of Buster Keaton – who by 1952 had fallen on hard times – as Calvero’s stage partner. There are some splendid match cuts that take us in and out of Calvero’s dreams, some well-designed sets and, unfortunately, a bit of dodgy accent work that suggests the director had lost touch with his homeland and London specifically. It’s very good, though. (****)