Limelight (1952) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A fading comedian and a suicidally despondent ballet dancer must look to each other to find purpose and hope in their lives.

  • Chaplin's final American film tells the story of a fading music hall comedian's effort to help a despondent ballet dancer learn both to walk and feel confident about life again. The highlight of the film is the classic duet with Chaplin's only real artistic film comedy rival, Buster Keaton.

  • It's 1914 London. Smelling gas, a man named Calvero breaks down the door of an apartment in the building where he lives, and finds a young woman trying to commit suicide. She is Thereza 'Terry' Ambrose, a ballerina. On advice from the attending physician, Calvero decides not to report it to the police, as attempted suicide is a criminal offense. As Terry is evicted from her apartment, Calvero allows her to stay with him for as long as she needs. As he nurses her back to physical health, he also deals with her emotional health and uncovering the reason for her attempted suicide. Although he is constantly telling her that life is worth living, he can understand the pressures and guilt she has faced in her life, as he himself is an ex-performer, a once legendary stage comedian whose professional career was ruined by excessive alcohol consumption. He is trying to revive his professional career. They become each other's emotional support as they try to make it in the world of the performing arts, for Calvero the second time around. Through it all, Calvero tries to show Terry the difference between devotion and romantic love, especially as an old admirer of hers named Neville re-enters her life.

  • In 1914 London, the formerly successful and presently decadent and alcoholic clown Calvero smells gas in the building where he lives and breaks into an apartment. He finds the suicidal Thereza 'Terry' Ambrose laying on her bed unconscious, and brings a doctor who saves her. They do not report the incident to the police, and Calvero nurses her back to health in his apartment two floors up, fending off questions from their landlady. He learns that Terry was a ballet dancer who had a problem in her legs that are paralyzed. However, the doctor tells Calvero that she has not a physical, but actually a psychological problem with her legs. He emotionally supports her, and she recovers her health and becomes a successful ballerina. Meanwhile, Calvero is also affected by Terry and quits drinking. Calvero tries to rebuild his career in show business while Terry falls in love with him, but age must pass as youth enters.

  • Depressed over her seemingly failed dance career, Terry attempts suicide, only to be rescued by Calvero, an impoverished, once-famous stage clown. Calvero revives Terry's health and prospects, and in the process recovers his own self-esteem as well. When Terry proposes marriage, Calvero thinks their age difference is too great, and leaves to become a street clown so that Terry's friendship with a promising young composer can instead blossom.


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