I’ve been wanting to see Limelight for quite some time, as what most people consider Chaplin’s last great film, so I really appreciate the push to see it. I had high hopes and they were both met and exceeded. Interestingly, the FB group where I’ve been tracking this challenge seemed to think I wouldn’t care for this one as much as its week partner The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. That kind of baffles me, as this seemed like as shoo-in to me, and sure enough.
Here Chaplin plays an aging vaudeville comedian, the great Calvero, who can now barely get a gig at the bottom of a bill and when he does, basically bottoms out of it. He saves a despondent ballerina who’s trying to commit suicide (Claire Bloom) and they end up giving each other reasons to live, basically. It’s not a particularly unique story, but treating an attempted suicide so frankly is pretty unusual for 1952, anticipating Wilder’s The Apartment by eight years.
Chaplin’s well-known for mixing comedy and pathos, and here the pathos almost completely eclipses the comedy – even when you smile and laugh it’s bittersweet rather than straight-up hilarious like the silents, but for the story he’s telling here, that’s actually perfect. (Caveat for the extended sequence with Buster Keaton, which I quite enjoyed). The May-December “romance” isn’t wholly believable, but if Chaplin as a writer had to get himself into it, he at least got himself out of it pretty well. The film as a whole is lovely and heartbreaking and beautiful and just wonderful.
Chaplin made two more films after this (neither of which I’ve seen yet, admittedly), but this really should’ve been his swan song. The themes of aging and art are the perfect capstone to his career, his character plays on the Little Tramp character without being a rehash, and the end would’ve been such a fitting farewell. That said, I guess I should never begrudge more films from a master filmmaker.
There are a handful of films that have made me weep during this challenge, and Limelight proudly joins them…and the overall Top Five for the whole challenge.
Stats and stuff…
written and directed by Charles Chaplin
starring Charles Chaplin, Claire Bloom, Sydney Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Nigel Bruce, Norman Lloyd
I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how Limelight entered my chart:
Limelight > Courage of Lassie
Limelight > The Shining
Limelight > The Three Musketeers (1973)
Limelight < Wings of Desire
Limelight > Moonrise
Limelight > A Dog of Flanders
Limelight < Chungking Express
Limelight > The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Limelight < Private Lives
Limelight > Office Space
Limelight > Europa ’51
Limelight < The Double Life of Veronique
Final #270 out of 3725 (93%)
It is now my #5 Charlie Chaplin film, my #1 Claire Bloom film, my #27 Comedy Drama, my #9 Melodrama, my #9 Showbiz Drama, and my #5 film of 1952.
Limelight was recommended by Patrick Gray, a friend and founder of Flickchart.com. Averaging together this #270 ranking with my #804 ranking of his other film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, gives Patrick an average ranking of 537.
A few more screenshots…