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Limelight (1952 film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Music by Charlie Chaplin
Cinematography Karl Struss
Edited by Joe Inge
Distributed by United Artists
Image Entertainment
Release dates
  • 1952 (1952)
Running time
137 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $900,000[1]
Box office $1,000,000 (domestic)
$7,000,000 (outside USA)[1]

Limelight is a 1952 comedy-drama film written, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin, co-starring Claire Bloom, with an appearance by Buster Keaton. In dance scenes, Bloom is doubled by Melissa Hayden. The film score is composed by Chaplin and arranged by Ray Rasch. The film was released amidst public controversy, and passed over by many theaters, as at this time Chaplin was refused re-entry to the United States on alleged grounds that he was a communist sympathizer. It was re-released in the United States in 1972, however, and honored at the Academy Awards.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
  • The music 5
  • Theatrical adaptation 6
  • Home Video 7
  • Legacy 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


The movie is set in London in 1914, on the eve of World War I (and the year Chaplin made his first film). Calvero (Chaplin), once a famous stage clown but now a washed-up drunk, saves a young dancer, Thereza "Terry" Ambrose, (Claire Bloom), from suicide. Nursing her back to health, Calvero helps Terry regain her self-esteem and resume her dancing career. In doing so he regains his own self-confidence, but his attempts to make a comeback meet with failure. Terry says she wants to marry Calvero despite their age difference, although she has befriended Neville (Sydney Earl Chaplin), a young composer Calvero believes would be better suited to her. In order to give them a chance, Calvero leaves home and becomes a street entertainer. Terry, now starring in her own show, eventually finds Calvero and persuades him to return to the stage for a benefit concert. Reunited with an old partner (Keaton), Calvero gives a triumphant comeback performance. He suffers a heart attack during a routine, however, and dies in the wings while watching Terry, the second act on the bill, dance on stage.



Charlie Chaplin and Claire Bloom in Limelight

Although the film is set in London, it was entirely filmed in Hollywood, mostly at the Chaplin Studios. The street where Calvero lives was a redressed set at Paramount Studios, the music hall scenes were filmed at RKO, and some exterior scenes use back-projected footage of London. Chaplin prominently featured members of his family in the film, including five of his children and his half-brother Wheeler Dryden. Chaplin chose stage actress Claire Bloom for the role of Terry, her first major film role. Chaplin told his older sons he expected Limelight to be his last film. By all accounts he was very happy and energized during production, a fact often attributed to the joy of recreating his early career in the Music Hall. Chaplin biographers have assumed that his character in the film was based on his father Charles Chaplin, Sr. who had also lost his audience and became an alcoholic, which led to his death in 1901. In both his 1964 autobiography, and his 1974 book My Life in Pictures, however, Chaplin insists that Calvero is based on the life of stage actor Frank Tierney. Limelight was made during a time where Chaplin himself was starting to lose his audience; in many ways, the movie remains highly autobiographical.

The pairing of Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the final musical number is historic for being the only time the two performed together on film. Chaplin at first had not written the part for Keaton because he believed that the role was too small. It was not until he learned that Keaton was going through hard times (before Limelight, Keaton had gone through a disastrous marriage, lost most of his fortune in the divorce process, and had appeared infrequently in films in the recent years) that Chaplin insisted Keaton be cast in the film. A rumor has persisted, fueled by the intense rivalry among fans of the two comics, that Keaton gave such a superior performance that Chaplin cut his scenes so he would not be upstaged by his rival. A close associate of Chaplin claimed that Chaplin not only did not feel threatened by Keaton's performance, but also heavily edited his own footage of the duet while enhancing Keaton's. According to Keaton's biographer Rudi Blesh, Chaplin eased his notoriously rigid directorial style to give Keaton free rein to invent his own comic business during this sequence. Keaton's widow Eleanor claimed that he was thrilled with his appearance in the film, and believed his business partner Raymond Rohauer started and fed the rumors.[2] Chaplin's son Sydney, who also appeared in the film, said that even if some of Keaton's best scenes were cut (which he did not believe), the storyline would not logically allow a supporting actor to suddenly appear and upstage the climactic comeback of Chaplin's character.[3]


While touring Britain to promote the film Chaplin learned that he had been refused a re-entry visa to the United States because of his alleged communist sympathies, and many American theaters refused to play Limelight. Outside of cinemas in several East Coast cities, the film was not seen by the American moviegoing public. It was not until 1972 that the film was finally seen in wide American release. Limelight currently holds an excellent 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was massively popular in Japan.[4] It was enormously successful in Europe and around the world. However, in the US it was a relative disappointment, only taking in $1 million.[1]

Limelight enjoyed a cumulative worldwide gross of $8 million.[5] Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance notes that the film’s reputation has slowly grown over the decades. Vance maintains “Limelight is Chaplin's last great film, and it plays like a self-conscious summing up of his life and career. As a journey back to his beginnings and an often rapier-sharp self-critique, Limelight is Chaplin’s most deeply personal and introspective film.”[6]

The music

Sheet music cover of "The Terry Theme", by Charlie Chaplin, and published by Bourne, Inc.

The theme to this film, titled "Terry's Theme" (written by Chaplin), became a popular, often-covered song as "Eternally", with words by Geoff Parsons and John Turner. In 1972, 20 years after the film's first release, Chaplin and his musical collaborators Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell were awarded an Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score.[7] In the case of Larry Russell, JazzWax journalist Marc Myers reports that this was a case of mistaken identity and Russell Garcia was the actual composer that should have been awarded the 1972 Oscar.[8] Larry Russell's family denies the report. Regardless, it was the only competitive Academy Award Chaplin ever received. (He had previously received two Honorary Oscars.)

Theatrical adaptation

In 2012, director, writer and actor Ariel Varela adapted Limelight for the stage, and premiered it in Peru.

Home Video

In 2003, Limelight was released on a special edition 2 disc DVD from Warner Home Video. It later went out of print.[9] The Criterion Collection released the film on both Blu-ray and DVD on May 19, 2015.[10]


The sixtieth anniversary of Limelight was celebrated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a reception, panel, and film screening at their Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, on October 3, 2012. Cast members Claire Bloom and Norman Lloyd shared their recollections in a conversation moderated by Chaplin biographer/archivist Jeffrey Vance.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b c Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 56-58
  2. ^ Keaton, Eleanor and Jeffrey Vance. Buster Keaton Remembered. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001, pg. 203 ISBN 0-8109-4227-5.
  3. ^ Vance, Jeffrey. Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003 pg. 292. ISBN 0-8109-4532-0.
  4. ^ Limelight" Set Jap Box Office Record.""".  
  5. ^ Vance, Jeffrey. Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003 pg. 295. ISBN 0-8109-4532-0.
  6. ^ Vance, Jeffrey. Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2003 pg. 280. ISBN 0-8109-4532-0.
  7. ^ Limelight
  8. ^  
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Charlie Chaplin's Limelight at the Academy After 60 Years". Huffington Post. 4 October 2012. 

External links

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