Review of Limelight (1952)

Moving picture, 137 minutes

Seen in 2022.

Forgotten by the younger generation after bad years of drinking, Calvero the “tramp comedian” saves a dancer crippled by anxiety in WW1-era London.

An indulgent operatic Pygmalion where Chaplin’s autobiography colours the old man’s thread of the dual narrative. It doesn’t have the penetrative intelligence of Sunset Blvd. (1950), but it is an effective treatment of the ageing process in Hollywood. Accordingly, the style of the film blends different eras, from the silent-film quiet of the audience when Chaplin and Buster Keaton put on their pantomime act, to the implausibly high ceiling of Calvero’s one-room apartment (cinema glamour in squalor), to the heavy use of back projection and other tricks disguising the fact that not a single scene was shot on location, despite Chaplin’s complete freedom as an independent filmmaker.

WW1 does not prevent a play-within-the-play from touring the continent. Modernity intrudes little, except in the old man’s melancholy, which finds many and varied expressions, some touching, some funny. When Chaplin himself travelled to Europe for the film’s foreign release, he was banned from re-entering the United States, completing a fall from stardom that was quite different from Calvero’s. Incidentally, the name Calvero means “clearing”, but it reminds me of “Calvary”, the place where the mythological Jesus was crucified.

References here: The Other Side of the Wind (2018).

moving picture fiction