Great Movies – !00 Great Years of Film brings me the last recommendation tie-in with Chaplin’s Gold Rush, his final American film, Limelight. This one falls more solidly into the drama category, but is quite involving, as it follows two stars, one fading in the form of comedian Calvero (Chaplin) and one rising in ballet dancer Thereza (Claire Bloom).
Calvero is coming to the end of his career, his rented room filled with posters from his former glorious performances, and now he seems to find solace in the bottle. As the film opens we learn that his downstairs neighbor, Thereza, has tried to kill herself. With nowhere to go, Calvero houses her, helps her recover, and the two form a co-dependent relationship, and even a winter-spring romance begins to develop.
The two of them live together, helping one another deal with the terrors and demons of waning and growing fame. Despite their efforts, Calvero’s return to the stage does not turn out as promising and successful as Thereza’s. She begins to find true success, and he believes that to help her the most, it would better for him to leave.
He does, and time rolls on.
Until he has a chance to come back to the stage, and Thereza finds him again.
Once he pairs up with his old stage friend, played by Buster Keaton, a benefit show is organized, showcasing Calvero’s talents and career, and he gets to know the feeling of success one last time.
The film is entertaining and moving, nowhere near as funny as his earlier films, but that’s not the point of this one, it’s more of a reflective piece, as Chaplin looks back on his own career. It’s probably no coincidence that both he and his creation of Calvero were famous for a Tramp character.
It’s a gentle tale, and it’s easy to see why Thereza fell in love with someone who devotes his life to her, but Calvero knows that she’s meant for more, and constantly tries to remove himself as a romantic figure, reminding her of the man he knows is waiting for her.
Some of it may seem self-indulgent, but it’s probably an honest look back at his own career that helped inspire this film.
As always, Chaplin wrote, starred and directed the film as well as doing the music.
It’s a gentle and lovely film, but if you’re looking for funny and humorous Chaplin, this isn’t the one to watch. It’s very interesting to watch him play a character at the end of his journey, worn, and tired, still a little hopeful, and accepting of where and what he’s done.
It’s interesting that this film has Buster Keaton in it, as the next film I’m to watch from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, is Keaton’s The General.