The recent Blu-ray release of Charlie Chaplin’s filmography has given film buffs plenty of opportunity to wax lyrical on the work of Chaplin. His influence on modern movie-making is easy to underestimate; he is still seen as many as a funny little clown whose humour seems quaint and restrained by today’s standards.
Limelight is a good example of the serious side of the classic clown. Though it isn’t quite his final movie, it is certainly his farewell. Chaplin plays an ageing clown called Calvero who is long past his best. Set during the eve of World War I, Limelight is a rather sombre piece. The old clown (Calvero, not Chaplin) has become a washed-up drunk and has-been. At an all-time low, Calvero attempts suicide only to be rescued in every conceivable way by a young ballet dancer.
The result is a heart-warming journey about recovery, friendship, failure and the crucial message that you’re never too old to be happy, and you should never stop trying to discover who you are. As you may suspect, Limelight isn’t a comedy. It’s a self-indulgent look at the things that motivated and inspired Chaplin throughout his life. It also features Buster Keaton (and is the only movie that features both of these icons of comedy). There are many, many set-pieces throughout this, and in many ways the lead is showing off his range and skill. It’s compelling viewing, even after all these years.
From a pop-culture point of view, it’s impossible to watch this movie without thinking of the way Chaplin shaped comedy. For a start, watching Limelight suddenly makes every single episode of The Simpsons that features Krusty the Clown all the more poignant. Limelight is the ultimate sad clown movie, and if that’s your thing then it deserves a place in your movie collection.
LIMELIGHT / CERT: U / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: CHARLIE CHAPLIN / STARRING: CHARLIE CHAPLIN, CLAIRE BLOOM, NIGEL BRUCE, BUSTER KEATON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW