Favourite Scenes: Chaplin and Keaton in Limelight (1952)

When Charlie Chaplin finished directing Limelight he had no way of knowing it was to be his last film made on American shores. In fact, when he went across to England for the film’s British premier, he had no idea that the country that had been his home for so many years would refuse him re-entry, supposedly for his ‘communist’ sympathies. The film is a fitting farewell – Chaplin plays an ageing and alcoholic music-hall comic, Calvero, once famous for his character of the Tramp, but now almost forgotten and unable to find work. Chaplin plays Calvero as something of a humanist philosopher, infected by what he calls a ‘sad dignity’ which, as he explains, is clearly fatal for a comic; the desire, as one gets older, to ‘live deeply’; to feel the profound expanses of the heart and soul – into which small laughs drop with deafening echoes.

Into his care comes a young, troubled ballerina, Thereza (played by Claire Bloom – Look Back in Anger) intent on ending her own life, but Calvero raises her spirits, encouraging her with great conviction that she must fight for her happiness and, in turn, as she regains her strength and her position as a dancer, she attempts to return the favour by finding Calvero work. Towards the end of the film, a benefit concert is staged for Calvero who entertains the audience with the following piece of pure comic genius – the one truly hilarious scene in what is otherwise a fairly sober (and, at times, overly sentimental) film. Calvero’s partner in the scene is played by Buster Keaton who need hardly do anything at all to make you fall right off your chair with uncontrollable mirth:

Trivia: As Chaplin fell victim to the McCarthy era communist witch-hunts which swept through Hollywood, Limelight was hardly shown in America until the 1970s, when it – and Chaplin – finally got some of the recognition it deserved. Chaplin won an Oscar for the score which, as usual, he composed himself.

The assistant director on Limelight was Robert Aldrich, who went on to direct Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and the Dirty Dozen.