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In London in 1914, aging, drunken comedian Calvero returns to his apartment house to find young neighbor Thereza Ambrose collapsed. Realizing that she has tried to gas herself to death, Calvero carries her to his apartment, where a doctor informs him that she cannot be moved for a few days. Against the wishes of landlady Mrs. Alsop, Calvero lets Thereza stay. When she wakes hours later, she moans to find that she is still alive, but he points out that human consciousness is precious. That night, he dreams that he is performing a brilliant vaudeville skit about a flea circus, but when he finishes, the theater is empty. The next day, Thereza discovers that Mrs. Alsop has rented out her room, and cries that she is destitute and homeless and, because she has rheumatic fever, cannot work as a ballerina. Calvero swears to heal her and, over the next few days, tries to dissuade her of her conviction that life is meaningless. As he charms her, her sweetness also captivates him, and one night he dreams of a comic treatise on love in which they co-star. The next morning, she discovers she cannot move her legs, but Calvero insists that she continue to fight, just as he does, in spite of the fact that his career is ruined. He reveals that he began to fail as a comedian when he tried to bring dignity to his acts, and then began drinking, which led to a heart attack. Just then, a telegram arrives from his agent, John Redfern, and Calvero rushes to see him. After waiting for hours, he is informed that he will be allowed to play at a music hall, but only under an assumed name. At home, Thereza's doctor assures Calvero that her paralysis is only psychological, and over the next week Calvero coaxes her to tell him about her sister, who was forced into prostitution to pay for Thereza's ballet school. When she reveals that her legs began to hurt when she saw a friend from her old school, he reasons that the friend brought on feelings of guilt about her sister and caused her illness. She also tells him about a poor young composer named Neville with whom she fell in love years ago, and Calvero prophesizes that someday they will meet again and fall in love. Soon, he makes her stand and help around the house, and, as his home fills with happiness, he stops drinking. When the music hall show opens, he does not tell Thereza, and the show bombs on opening night. He returns home devastated and Thereza, repeating the words of encouragement that he once spoke to her, walks for the first time in months. She declares her love for him, but he objects that he is too old. Six months later, she wins the lead role in a ballet and finagles a part for Calvero as a clown. As she practices in the theater, the new composer, Neville, is brought in, and although Thereza recognizes him, she pretends she does not know him. At lunch the next day, however, he sits with her, and she admits remembering him but tells him she is marrying Calvero. They later rehearse the ballet, the story of Harlequin, who loves the dying Columbine. Columbine asks for clowns to entertain her, and during their show, she dies. Harlequin mourns her at her graveside, but her spirit returns to prove to him that part of her lives on with him. At the premiere weeks later, Thereza's legs buckle before the second act. Only Calvero's slap snaps her out of her hysterical paralysis, and she goes on to perform brilliantly. At the celebratory dinner, Calvero gets drunk alone, and overhears Neville tell Thereza at the end of the night that he loves her. Neville insists that Thereza only pities Calvero, but she tells him that she loves the older man's soul. The next day, Calvero tries to leave her but she will not let him. When he visits the theater, however, he discovers that the producer, Postant, is trying to re-cast his role. Despairing and convinced that Thereza is better off without him, he leaves town. Over the next months, Thereza becomes a worldwide sensation. One day, her show returns to London, and Neville discovers Calvero performing on a street corner. When the clown learns that Thereza and Neville are lovers, he remains upbeat, happy with his current lot in life. Thereza finds him within hours and begs him to come back to her, and although he loves her, he demurs. Postant soon offers Calvero a benefit performance, and eager to prove he is not a failure, Calvero agrees. Before the show, he drinks heavily and is a huge hit. He returns for a long slapstick encore, and by the time he finishes, he suffers a heart attack. He is brought to the dressing room, where he tells Thereza they will travel the world together. When Thereza is called onto the stage, Calvero asks to be moved to the wings so he can watch her, and as she dances, he dies.