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USA 1952
Directed by
Charles Chaplin
145 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars


Chaplin's alternately wildly melodramatic and turgid film, much in the spirit of William Wellman’s A Star Is Born  (1937) is the story of a fading London music hall star, Calvero (Chaplin), who befriends a young dancer, Thereza (Claire Bloom), a co-tenant in his rooming house, who has tried to commit suicide. He shepherds her to stardom as his own career dwindles away.

Although for his previous film, the blackly comic Monsieur Verdoux (1947) Chaplin maintained a quasi-caricatural persona here he essays a straight dramatic role (leavened with occasional musical interludes taken from  his character’s stage act as a comical tramp).  Even though it is a film he clearly cared about and he gives it his all it’s an uneasy fit and doesn’t work largely because Chaplin’s script is so heavy-handed, a combination of over-wrought platitudinous moralizing and sentimental self-indulgence seemingly harbouring the idea that by turning his douleurs into art he could turn his waning career around (he not only directed and starred in it but produced it, wrote the story and screenplay, and composed the score).

On the upside, a 19 year old stage actress Claire Bloom making her screen debut, is a luminous presence even if Chaplin pushes her into the realm of histrionics at times. Chaplin’s son, Sydney, plays Thereza’s suitor, Neville. For those patient enough to hear Chaplin out, near the film’s end is a wonderful sketch performed by Chaplin with his silent film era alumnus Buster Keaton as they burlesque a classical music act. It is worth the rest of the film, if not more.

FYI: Shortly after the film’s release Chaplin left the USA rather than testify at McCarthy’s HUAC investigation. He did not return until 1972 when his score for Limelight was awarded an honorary Academy Award.




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