This blog post is part of the Fabulous Films of the 1950s Blogathon,,hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA)...
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. It was a great pairing seeing Chaplin and Keaton on the screen together.
Haunting and unforgettable piece from Charles Chaplin that was nearly lost in the American cinema all together. It played in very few cities within the U.S. in 1952 and was never shown in Los Angeles due to the suspicion that the House of Un-American Acts Committee had concerning Chaplin (making no sense to me as Chaplin, who was British, was the polar opposite of a Communist from all indications). The film disappeared from U.S. soil and did not re-surface until some 20 years later in 1972 and Chaplin actually won an Oscar, with fellow scorers Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell, for this movie's original dramatic score (this was the only competitive Oscar Chaplin ever won).
Chaplin stars as a washed-up vaudeville performer. He is now an elderly man (in his 60s when the film was made) and the spotlight is gone forever, even though he still secretly yearns for it. Chaplin discovers a very young ballet dancer (Claire Bloom) who has attempted suicide because she cannot handle being a performer. Naturally Chaplin cannot believe that this young, beautiful and talented woman would rather take her life than be a ballet performer (the fact that Chaplin yearns for her youth and the ability to be an entertainer again makes him bound and determined to get her back on her feet). He tries with all his might to get her performance-ready again, all the while he is also trying to resurrect the career that he lost long ago. Chaplin has a dream of a stunning performance he has on the stage, but when his act ends there is no one there to acknowledge him (one of, if not the saddest sequences I have ever seen on film). Soon it becomes obvious that Chaplin's time is running out and his desperation to have that one last piece of action engulfs his mind, body, heart and soul.
Although the film is set in London, it was entirely filmed in Hollywood, mostly at the Chaplin Studios. The street where Calvero lives was a redressed set at Paramount Studios, the music hall scenes were filmed at RKO, and some exterior scenes use back-projected footage of London. Chaplin prominently featured members of his family in the film, including five of his children and his half-brother Wheeler Dryden. Chaplin chose stage actress Claire Bloom for the role of Terry, her first major role in films.
Chaplin told his older sons he expected Limelight to be his last film. By all accounts he was very happy and energized during production, a fact often attributed to the joy of recreating his early career in the Music Hall. Most people who have studied the life of Chaplin would assume that his character in the film was based on his father Charles Chaplin Sr who had also lost his audience and had turned to alcohol which led to his death in 1901. In both his 1964 autobiography, and his 1974 book My Life in Pictures, however, Chaplin insists that Calvero is based on the life of stage actor Frank Tierney. Then, in contrast, Limelight was made during a time where Chaplin himself was starting to lose his audience. In many ways, the movie remains highly autobiographical.
Whether or not the movie I about Chaplin is really beside the point. If you want to lose yourself in another time and really feel the emotions of a film's characters then please view Limelight. This film marked an end of an era for Chaplin. It marked a time of sadness being kicked out of the United States, a country he had called home for almost fifty years, but it also marked a change in Chaplin. He no longer longed to make a perfect movie, he learned to enjoy his family and the finer things in life. When you thing of movies of the 1950s, you do not really think of a Charlie Chaplin movie, but I think of Limelight...