Limelight (1952): Chaplin’s Last Significant Movie, Co-Starring Lovely Claire Bloom

Charles Chaplin’s 1952 film, Limelight, is his last significant work and a personal film, in text (message) and subtext (meaning).

Chaplin’s follow-up film, King in New York, made in 1957 in England, is much weaker.

The movie is set in London in 1914, on the eve of World War I, and the year Chaplin made his first film.

Overlong, visually flat, and too verbose, Limelight tells a sentimental story between an alcoholic has-been musichall comedian named Calvero (Chaplin) and a lovely young ballerina (the beautiful Claire Bloom), who he rescues from suicide.

He nurses her back to health, and when she finds work as a dancer, and she remembers his goodness and reciprocates by getting him a job with the company.

However, later on, Calvero disappears, realizing that her devotion to him endangers her chances to be happily married to a younger, more suitable man.  In the end, he suffers a heart attack and dies, while watching from the wings his beloved ballerina dancing.

The narrative is messy, a result of poor, episodic construction, but it contains many lyrical and funny moments.

On one level, it’s a personal film, sort of an autobiographical fantasy-nightmare, with its focus on an aging vaudeville clown, Calvero, not unlike Chaplin at the time.

Among many merits, it’s the only time that Chaplin teams with his brilliant contemporary and rival, Buster Keaton, who appears as an old crony in a lovely homage

The final, eloquent shot is extremely touching, conveying the transcendence of genuine art, theme that Chaplin was concerned with in this and other films.

Plot

Calvero, once a famous stage clown but now a washed-up drunk, saves a young dancer, Thereza “Terry” Ambrose, (Claire Bloom), from suicide. Nursing her back to health, Calvero helps Terry regain her self-esteem and resume her dancing career. In the process, he regains his own self-confidence, but his attempts to make a comeback meet with failure.

Terry says she wants to marry Calvero despite their age difference. Meanwhile, Terrys has befriended Neville (Sydney Earl Chaplin), a young composer Calvero believes would be more suitable for her. In order to give them a chance, Calvero leaves home and becomes a street entertainer.

Terry, now starring in her own show, eventually finds Calvero and persuades him to return to the stage for a benefit concert. Reunited with an old partner (Buster Keaton), Calvero gives a triumphant comeback performance. He suffers a heart attack during a routine, however, and dies in the wings while watching Terry performing a solo dance on stage.

Cast

Charlie Chaplin as Calvero

Claire Bloom as Terry

Nigel Bruce as Postant

Buster Keaton as Calvero’s partner

Sydney Earl Chaplin as Neville

Norman Lloyd as Bodalink

André Eglevsky as Ballet Dancer

Marjorie Bennett as Mrs. Alsop

Wheeler Dryden as Therezas doctor

Melissa Hayden as Terry’s dance double

Geraldine Chaplin as Little Girl in Opening Scene

Josephine Chaplin as Child in Opening Scene

Charles Chaplin, Jr. as Clown

Snub Pollard as Street Musician

Michael Chaplin as Child in Opening Scene

Oona O’Neill as Extra

 

Oscar Nomination: 1

Original Dramatic Score: Chaplin, Ratmond Rusch and Larry Russell.

Oscar Awards: 1

Dramatic Score.