79. Limelight (1952)

United Artists 1923-52

Film still for Limelight


An opening title reads "The glamour of limelight, from which age must fade as youth enters - the tale of a ballerina and a clown". Calvero, a one-time tramp comedian and star of the music halls, now fallen on hard times, returns home to his lodgings in his habitual state of inebriation. Three small children watch him disapprovingly as he attempts to insert the key in the lock. He is sobered up suddenly by the smell of gas and the discovery that his neighbour, a young ballet dancer called Thereza Ambrose (Terry for short), has attempted suicide. He smashes the door down and gets her a doctor. Taking her into his own room to care for her, much to the annoyance of the Landlady who has evicted Terry from her room, he learns that a psychosomatic condition has convinced Terry that she can no longer dance or even walk.

Calvero dreams of his past great performances, but when he sees that he is performing to an empty hall, he wakes depressed. In another dream Terry appears as his partner. They discuss many things, how he had been given up for dead when the work dried up and how he learned to fight back, how age and comedy don't mix and how she should learn to do so too. She tells him of how she discovered that her sister is working on the streets to pay for her dancing tuition and how she was sacked from her job in a music shop for giving a poor young musician too much change. The shame seems connected to her inability to move her legs. Calvero determines to help her dance again and they practice step by step. In helping to restore her confidence Calvero begins to be transformed himself and gives up drinking. But his own attempts at revitalising his career seem hopeless. He performs at the Middlesex only for the audience to walk out on his performance. This time Terry comforts him and forgetting about herself, walks perfectly. The walk along the Embankment and she says he is not to worry as she can earn money dancing in the chorus.

Terry's career flourishes and she becomes a star of the ballet of the Empire music hall. Calvero has taken up with some buskers and is drinking again but Terry gets him a job as clown in a ballet she is also auditioning for. They meet the young musician Mr. Neville who she had helped before. She gets the part of prima ballerina and Calvero watches her dance and is moved to tears. Terry proclaims her love for him and asks if he will marry her but he realises that Terry's romantic devotion to him is temporary, and pushes her towards the young composer. They start rehearsals, Calvero sarcastically asking "...as she is dying?" when the plot in which the Clowns come on to entertain Columbine is described to the cast. As Terry is about to perform the Death of Columbine she again becomes hysterical and thinks she is paralysed but Calvero slaps her and propels her on to the stage. A prop man sees Calvero, the hardened cynic, as he prays for her to be a success.

He walks out of her life and goes back to busking. Neville has joined the war effort and Terry is touring in Europe. Years later Calvero meets Neville in a bar and finds he has been seeing Terry. He asks him not to tell her how low he has fallen. Neville's friend the manager recognises Calvero from the old days. They talk and Calvero says he has been rehearsing a musical act with a new partner. The manager arranges a benefit show at the Empire packing it with a sympathetic audience but it is unnecessary. He recaptures his old success with the audience. In the final musical act with the new partner (Keaton) they score a genuine hit and the audience pleads for an encore but Calvero has collapsed off stage with pains in his chest. He is carried onto the stage for his curtain call still collapsed into the bass drum "I would continue" he says "but I'm stuck you see". A doctor is called and it is clear he is dying. He pretends to Terry he is just tired and she goes on to dance. He asks to be carried to the wings so he can see her, with his friends surrounding him in echo of the Death of Columbine they had performed together, he dies as she continues to dance.


Celebrated-United Artists
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Karl Struss
Photographic Consultant:
Roland Totheroh
Assistant Producers:
Wheeler Dryden, Jerome Epstein
Associate Director:
Robert Aldrich
Art Director:
Eugene Lourié
Joseph Angel
Charles Chaplin, Andre Eglevsky, Melissa Hayden
Corps de ballet:
Carmelita Marucci
Charles Chaplin
Musical Director:
Ray Rasch
Keith Williams
Songs, 'The Animal Trainer', 'The Sardine Song', 'Spring is Here':
Charles Chaplin, Ray Rasch
Hugh McDowell
Drew Tetrcik
Ted Larsen
Hair stylist:
Florence Avery
Production manager:
Lonnie D'Orsa
Charles Chaplin (Calvero)
Claire Bloom (Terry)
Buster Keaton (Partner)
Sydney Chaplin (Neville)
Norman Lloyd (Bodalink)
Marjorie Bennett (Mrs Alsop)
Wheeler Dryden (Doctor and Clown)
Nigel Bruce (Mr Postant)
Barry Bernard (John Redfern)
Leonard. Mudie (Doctor)
Snub Pollard (Musician)
Loyal Underwood (Musician)
Julian Ludwig (Musician)
Andrfe Eglevsky (Harlequin)
Melissa Hayden (Columbine)
Charles Chaplin Jr (Pantomime policeman)
Geraldine Chaplin (Child in street)
Michael Chaplin (Child in street)
Josephine Chaplin (Child in street)
Jack Deery (Emissary - Dress Circle)
Major Sam Harris (Old fogey in Dress Circle)
Dorothy Ford (Patrician lady in Dress Circle)
Charley Hall (News vendor)
Elizabeth Root, Millicent Patrick, Judy Landon, Sherry Moreland Valerie Vernon, Eric Wilson, Cyril Delevanti, Frank Hagrey (Extras in Dress Circle)
Oona O'Neill Chaplin (Double for Terry, in brief long-shot)
Stapleton Kent (Claudius, the Armless Wonder)
Mollie Glessing (Maid)
Production started:
12 November 1951
Opening shot:
19 November 1951
Final shot:
25 January 1952
16 October 1952, Odeon Theatre, Leicester Square, London
US Premiere:
23 October 1952, Astor and Trans Lux Theatres, New York
12,636 ft