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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Limelight - Charlie Chaplin's great movie

Charlie Chaplin has an enduring legacy of a great comedian, remembered for his black and white movies where he played the tramp to great perfection. However, he has played other roles, including a biting anti-Nazi movie, the Great Dictator, made in 1940. Another of Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr. (Charlie Chaplin's) movies that was incredibly great was the movie released in 1952 called Limelight. I have seen this movie more than 2 decades ago, and yet remember it for the message displayed in the movie.
Limelight was made when Charlie Chaplin was going through an incredible low time in the US. He was facing an organized protest at the hands of the Senator Joseph McArthy and accused of being a communist sympathizer. In fact, when the movie was released, it was not even able to run long enough to qualify for an academy award. It was only in 1972 that the movie ran long enough to qualify for the Oscars for best Soundtrack.
The movie is essentially a movie about a down and out former star, and how he enjoys a slight revival when he is bucking up a young and upcoming girl, and how as she enjoys her success, he finally passes away.
The movie could be seen as depressing at many levels, given that it is about a person's struggle once he is no longer in the limelight, but I have always considered this movie to be a masterpiece, given the extent of human emotions displayed in the movie. This movie is also unique because it has the only known scene where both Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton act together. There is a great deal of controversy about whether Chaplin cut Buster's role, but the fact remains that Chaplin gave the role to Keaton when Buster was going through great tribulations in his personal life.
Calvero (Charlie Chaplin), in the year 1914, is a shadow of his former great self. He used to play the comic clown to great success, but now is no longer to give any great performances until he has drunk more alcohol.
One day, he saves the life of a upcoming ballerina, Terry (Claire Bloom) when she was trying to commit suicide. However, she is diagnosed as having paralysis although there is no medical reason for this. They talk about their life, thus giving the audience a chance to know them better, and this continues for a section of the movie.
She is in love with Neville, a young composer (played by Sydney Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin's son).
Calvero nurses her back to health, and soon she is starting to come out of her paralysis, with Chaplin providing encouragement. He is still a failure, although she is now moving up, and the situation is now getting reversed. She is the one who is encouraging him to get back his life. In a small hint of romance, she offers to marry him, but he knows that he is not right for her and believes that she is better off with Neville. She gets him a job on her own set, and encourages him when she seems to fail.
And then the final act. She wants him to play himself on a benefit act, and he unites with his old partner, Buster Keaton in a great performance. Once he completes his act in great success, it's Terry turn. Chaplin is watching her dance while he is sitting in the sets, and that is when he has a fatal heart attack and dies.

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