Limelight (1952)

Another library loan. As I said a while ago, I’ve managed to see almost everything Chaplin made from his Essanay shorts up to The Great Dictator (the exception being The Kid), but somehow I never caught up with any of the handful of films he made after 1940. Tonight, therefore, was about at least partly rectifying an omission… Difficult if not impossible to discuss the film apart from the position Chaplin himself occupied upon its release in 1952; infamously he was locked out of the US upon leaving it to attend the film’s premiere in London, his leftist sympathies making him not exactly welcome at the height of McCarthyism. In the film he is Calvero, the aging formerly great clown of the English music hall who has lost his audience along the way, much as Chaplin himself kind of did with his last film five years before this (Monsieur Verdoux). While you couldn’t say Chaplin was exactly washed up like Calvero, he was certainly conscious of Limelight possibly being his last bow (even though it wasn’t), and there’s a certain irony involved in setting this story of an old performer making his lastt stand in the music hall environment that spawned Chaplin himself but further setting it in 1914, the year Chaplin’s film career suddenly erupted and he himself left the stage behind. Alas, the film’s basic seriousness (it’s a drama rather than a comedy like A Woman of Paris, except Chaplin stars in it this time), while noble and well-intentioned, gradually overwhelms the thing, and by about the halfway point I was begging it to end; 137 minutes of it is only about 10 more than The Great Dictator, but that didn’t drag anywhere near as mercilessly as this film did. If only it had been about three quarters of an hour shorter, I’d be acclaiming it as one of his masterpieces; it’s awash in sentiment, yes, but it’d be far more palatable at much shorter length. Granted, though, it is worth sitting through for those precious few minutes he shares with Buster Keaton near the end.

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