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Film / Limelight

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Limelight is a 1952 comedy-drama film written by, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin, co-starring Claire Bloom, Sydney Chaplin, Nigel Bruce, Norman Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. The music score was composed by Chaplin and arranged by Ray Rasch.

London, 1914. Calvero (Chaplin), once a famed stage clown but now a washed-up drunk, saves a young ballet dancer, Thereza "Terry" Ambrose (Bloom), from suicide. As he nurses her back to health, he also helps her to regain her self-esteem and resume her dancing career. While doing this he also begins to regain his own self-confidence, although his attempts at making a comeback are less successful. Terry wants to marry Calvero in spite of their age difference, but he believes that Ernest Neville (Sydney Chaplin), a young composer she's befriended, would be better suited for her. In order to give them a chance together, Calvero leaves home and becomes a street entertainer. Some time afterward Terry, who's now starring in her own show, finds Calvero and persuades him to return to the stage for a benefit show. Reunited with an old partner (Keaton), Calvero gives a triumphant comeback performance but immediately suffers a heart attack and dies in the wings... while just a few feet away from him Terry, the second act on the bill, dances on stage. This represents the end of one generation and the coming of another, the fading of age and the emergence of youth under the Limelight, as said during the initial credits.

Chaplin's last Hollywood film, Limelight was released amidst public controversy, and passed over by most American theaters, as at that time Chaplin was refused re-entry to the U.S. on alleged grounds that he was a communist sympathizer. It was re-released in the United States in 1972, and because the film played in a Los Angeles theater for the first time that year, Chaplin was honored with the only competitive Academy Award of his career (for Best Original Score) two decades after the film's initial release.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: When Calvero turns down Postant's offer to be rehired, he insists that he's always liked performing outdoors and that he's always been a "bit of a tramp", referring to Chaplin's most famous role. Likewise, there's at least one poster in the background that describes Calvero as a "tramp comedian".
  • The Alcoholic: Calvero has a tendency to drown his sorrows about his declining career in alcohol.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Calvero dies happily after his triumphant comeback performance, essentially freeing Terry to pursue a more suitable relationship with Neville.
  • The Cameo: Buster Keaton's brief appearance near the film's end is the only time that he and Chaplin, the two biggest stars of the silent film era, appeared in a movie together.
  • Commedia dell'Arte: At one point Calvero and Terry perform together in a ballet based on the Harlequinade characters.
  • Comforting Comforter: In an early scene Calvero carefully tugs the blanket underneath sleeping Terry's feet.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Calvero.
  • Downer Beginning: The film opens with Terry attempting suicide.
  • The Film of the Book: Chaplin adapted the screenplay from an unpublished novella he wrote in 1948 called Footlights.
  • Hope Spot: When Postant is thinking of replacing Calvero with someone else in the harlequinade act because he doesn't think he's funny enough, he has second thoughts when he hears that the clown in question is Calvero under a fake name and decides to keep him employed regardless, saying that the comedy is just a minor part of the act. Unfortunately for Calvero, Postant already called in the replacement for a tryout, who turns out to be an old friend of Calvero's and who he happens to meet before being told about his tryout being cancelled, resulting in Calvero thinking that he's not wanted anymore as described below, causing him to become a street performer.
  • Hourglass Plot: First it is Calvero who cares for and mentally supports Terry who has given up on life, then the tides turn and Terry does her best to pick up depressed and down on his luck Calvero.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Calvero philosophizes about consciousness: "Can the sun think? Is it conscious? No, but you are!" ... (looking at Terry being sound asleep) ... "Pardon me, my mistake".
  • Interrupted Suicide: Calvero smells the gas coming from Terry's room and saves her Just in Time before the sleeping pills and gas could do their work.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Calvero feels that the May–December Romance between him and Terry is not healthy for her, so he decides to leave and make room for Terry and Neville to get together.
  • Match Cut: When Calvero dreams of himself performing the flea circus act, it ends with a close-up on his face looking devastated at the empty seats in the theatre. The shot slowly dissolve to Calvero looking the same way sitting up in his bed.
  • May–December Romance: Between young Terry and elderly Calvero, though the latter refuses to admit his feelings and decides to leaves in order to let Terry pursue a relationship with Neville.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Terry gets fired from her clerk job after helping Neville out with some change to buy food by giving him too much change for his note papers and giving him extras.
  • Oblivious Mockery: When Calvero meets his old friend Griffin, the latter tells him he was testing for the clown part, as the current clown was performing poorly. Little did he know that it was Calvero he was talking about.
  • "Open!" Says Me: In the opening scene, Calvero rams his shoulder into the door of Terry's room to break it open. It works on the third attempt.
  • Self-Plagiarism: Chaplin wanted to include a flea circus gag in The Circus and The Great Dictator, but couldn't fit it in either film.
  • Talent Double: Hayden Mellissa, a well-known Canadian ballerina, performed as the dance double for Claire Bloom in the film.
  • Throwing Off the Disability: Happens twice - first dramatically, then played for laughs. Having failed at suicide, Terry has convinced herself that her legs are paralyzed so she can't keep pursuing her thus far unsuccessful dream of becoming a dancer. Half-way through the movie, during a Rousing Speech to Calvero she suddenly notices that she can walk again. Later, during one of her ballet performances, she feels paralyzed, not able to go on with the show. Calvero is unimpressed and slaps her in the face which immediately sends her out of her paralysis.
  • Time-Compression Montage: At one point we see Terry dancing in front of a shifting background, displaying various locations of her touring across the continent.
  • Twice Shy: Both Terry and Neville comment on how they acted too shy during their encounters at the stationary shop.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Calvero, slapping Terry hard to pull her out of her temporary paralysis.