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Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Limelight (1952) - Selected Charlie Chaplin
167    Dibyendu Banerjee    11/04/2024

Limelight (1952), a masterful drama, written, produced, directed and starred by Charles Chaplin, is the story about the once-famous comedy performer Calvero, discarded by his audience as his art is considered obsolete and now living in a run-down rooming house in London, sunk in alcoholic despair and the beautiful but melancholy ballerina Terry, played by Claire Bloom, living downstairs, whom Calvero saves from killing herself.

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Apart from the two main characters, the film also features, among others, Buster Keaton in a historic but brief comedy scene, featuring a piano-violin duet that runs into small problems like a smashed violin and an over-strung piano, marking the only time the two silent comedy icons appeared in a film together. However, Claire Bloom was doubled in a scene by Melissa Hayden, a star of the New York City Ballet, as Claire was not a dancer. According to Chaplin, the character of Calvero is based on the American comedian Frank Tinney and the Spanish clown Marceline, with whom he had himself worked as a boy and witnessed their failure afterwards. Nevertheless, the symbolical character of Calvero also stands in pretty well for the Chaplin of 1952 as his previous film, Monsieur Verdoux failed to fulfil the expectation at the box office and represented his first critical failure. Probably he felt that like Calvero, a faded star, his best days are also over and he has become a burnt-out entertainer, facing a bleak and uncertain future.

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During the filming of Limelight, Chaplin’s public life was beset by his personal problems, but it was perhaps a comfort to have his family around him during those difficult days.

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Apart from his son Sydney, who played the role of Neville, his four other children and his half-brother Wheeler Dryden also played minor roles in the film, even his young wife, Spanish actress Oona Castilla Chaplin doubled for Claire Bloom in two brief shots. It is interesting to note that the character of Calvero in Limelight resembles Chaplin's father, Charles Chaplin Sr, who had also lost his audience and became an alcoholic, which led to his death in 1901 and the character of Terry, the young dancer, was also clearly based on his mother, Hannah, along with some reflections of Hetty Kelly, Chaplin’s first and never forgotten love. Claire Bloom, who portrayed Terry, also remembered that while rehearsing her, Chaplin was always recalling gestures of his mother or Hetty Kelly.

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Charles Chaplin as Calvero

All through his life, Chaplin never had anything to do with any political party. But Limelight was made during the period when America’s Cold War paranoia reached its peak and as a foreigner with liberal and humanist sympathies, Chaplin became a prime target for political witch-hunters.

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Added to it, Chaplin’s reluctance to apply for US citizenship and his frequent contribution of articles about Quasi-Communist alternatives to Capitalism made him a direct target of the staunch anti-Communist brigade. Ironically, it was during a promotional tour of England on behalf of Limelight, one of his most apolitical films, that Chaplin was barred from reentering the States, due to his alleges communist sympathies. The premiere of the film was held in London on 16 October 1952, but in his absence, open official hostility in America escalated to such a point that Chaplin decided not to return to that unhappy country and made his permanent residence in Europe. In America, it was scarcely distributed upon its initial release and was heavily boycotted because of Chaplin's alleged communist sympathies. Even, some US theatres had banned its showing in the 1950s. However, Chaplin returned to America more than two decades later, only when the film was re-released in the United States in 1972, including its first screening in Los Angeles, which allowed the decades-old film to be a contender for the 45th Academy Award 45th Academy Award, where Chaplin won his only competitive Oscar for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, while his other awards were outside of the established categories. Today, Limelight is regarded as one of Chaplin's best and most personal works.

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Limelight (1952) is set in London in the summer of 1914, on the eve of World War I, when Calvero stumbles upon the attempted suicide scene of a young woman, called Thereza Terry Ambrose, who gulped down some poison and as if that was not enough, also turned on the gas in her apartment. Consequently, Calvero retrieves the young woman with the help of a doctor, who suggests that Calvero, living two floors up, should personally look after her to avoid an inquiry that could result in jailing. The cantankerous landlady also insists him to save the scandalous situation quickly and quietly and gives him a month’s time, before she speaks out about the erratic behaviour and suspicious movements of the girl. Nevertheless, after regaining her consciousness, Terry reveals that she was a dancer with the Empire Theatre Ballet, but now she cannot leave her bed, fearing total paralysis of her legs. However, Calvero learns from the doctor that a psychosomatic condition has convinced Terry that she can no longer dance or even walk and the psychologically self-imposed crippling is a subconscious reprisal and extreme disgust for her failed suicide attempt.

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Nevertheless, despite his acute financial condition, Calvero determines to nurse her mental state back to normal condition, lift her spirits with new hope and resume her dancing career, although in the process, Calvero begins to experience renewed optimism and his own self-confidence as well. Unfortunately, his attempt to make a comeback met a failure, while Terry became successful, her career flourishes and she becomes a star of the ballet of the Empire Music Hall. Yet, when Terry proposes to marry Calvero, despite their age difference, Calvero strongly feels that her devotion to him should not stand in the way of her friendship and a possible relationship with the young composer Neville, who Calvero believes would be a better choice for her. To give them a chance, so that Terry's friendship with Neville, played by Chaplin’s son Sydney, can blossom, Calvero decided to walk out of Terry’s life, leaves home and becomes a street entertainer.

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Claire Bloom with Sydney Chaplin

Eventually, Terry, along with Nevelle, finds Calvero and persuades him to star in a benefit show arranged for him at the Empire Music Hall and reunited with an old partner, Calvero gives a triumphant comeback performance, recapturing his old success with the audience. Unfortunately, it was destined to be his final performance, as he suffered a heart attack during a routine. However, he requests to be carried to the wings and dies while watching the dancing Terry.

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Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton
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Limelight, regarded as Chaplin's most deeply personal and introspective film, is also considered by some critics as his last great film, which plays like a self-conscious summing up of his life and career.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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