Limelight


2h 18m 1953
Limelight

Brief Synopsis

A broken-down comic sacrifices everything to give a young dancer a shot at the big time.

Film Details

Also Known As
Footlight
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Feb 6, 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Oct 1952; Los Angeles opening: 1972
Production Company
Celebrated Films Corp.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 18m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Film Length
8 reels

Synopsis

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.

Film Details

Also Known As
Footlight
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Drama
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Feb 6, 1953
Premiere Information
New York opening: 23 Oct 1952; Los Angeles opening: 1972
Production Company
Celebrated Films Corp.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 18m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Film Length
8 reels

Award Wins

Best Score

1952

Articles

Limelight


In his last American film before returning to his British homeland, Chaplin stars as Calvero, an aging, out-of-work music hall clown in 1914 London. Wandering drunkenly into his boarding house one day, he discovers that a young neighbor, Thereza (Claire Bloom) has opened the gas jets of her stove in an attempt to kill herself. Calvero rescues the girl and nurses her back to health, trying to instill in her a greater will to live. But just as Terry, an aspiring ballerina who has lost the use of her legs, is regaining her own confidence, Calvero faces professional setbacks of his own and slips into alcoholic self-pity. In spite of their hardships, the two lost souls come to rely upon each other, form a romantic bond, and are ultimately afforded a last opportunity to grasp the theatrical dreams that have so long eluded them.

Five years elapsed between Limelight (1952) and Chaplin's previous film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947). Always a meticulous director who involved himself in every facet of production, Chaplin reportedly spent two and a half years working on the script of Limelight. He even wrote a two-part "novel" which detailed the back-story of the two central characters. Variety quipped upon the film's release, "Limelight is a one-man show since Chaplin does almost everything but grow his own rawstock." As the script neared completion, Chaplin conducted a talent search for the role of Thereza, placing a classified ad in a trade publication which read, "WANTED: Young girl to play leading lady to a comedian generally recognized as world's greatest. Must be between 20-24 years of age. Stage, ballet experience preferable but not necessary. Apply Charles Chaplin Studios, Hollywood." This may have merely been a means of stirring publicity for the film, for the "discovery" of the leading lady was ultimately made by playwright Arthur Laurents, who recommended Bloom to the filmmaker after seeing her on the London stage in Ring Around the Moon in 1951. Chaplin asked Bloom to make a screen test, so during a week's hiatus in the play's run, she raced to New York for a filmed audition. It was four months before Chaplin notified her that she had been selected for the role.

Bloom and her mother often dined with Chaplin after the day's shooting and recalled that, "he spoke endlessly of his early poverty; the atmosphere he was creating for Limelight brought him back night after night to the melancholy of those years at home with his mother and brother." For Chaplin, Limelight was a sentimental revisitation of his early years as a struggling entertainer in the music halls of London. When asked about these aspects of the story, Chaplin told writer Richard Lauterbach, "Everything is autobiographical," then cautiously added, "but don't make too much of that."

Limelight is a melancholy valentine to all the great clowns of history, with homage to opera's tearful Pagliacci; the traditional pantomime of Harlequin, Pierrot and Columbine; and the bouncy risqu¿ritish stage comedians of Chaplin's youth. A poster on Calvero's wall, advertising the "Tramp Comedian," is a clear reference to Chaplin's own legendary persona. But Calvero's tramp is a different creation, wearing a straw boater and upturned moustache and, unlike the silent-screen "Little Tramp," this one speaks and sings. Chaplin paid tribute to his fellow veterans of the slapstick cinema by populating Limelight with faces familiar to comedy cinephiles. Buster Keaton appears onstage with Calvero in the film's comic climax, while smaller roles are filled by slapstick comedians Snub Pollard and Loyal Underwood (a supporting player in Chaplin's Mutual and First National comedy shorts), who play street musicians. Chaplin's former leading lady -- Edna Purviance -- is said to appear briefly as an audience member in the ballet sequence.

In addition to his professional family, Chaplin welcomed his own relatives to Limelight. Three of his children -- Geraldine, Michael and Josephine -- are the waifs who watch with amusement as Calvero drunkenly attempts to enter his domicile (a scene that recalls Chaplin's 1916 short One A.M.). Chaplin's eldest son Sydney portrays Neville, the starving musician who is the object of Thereza's affection, and Charles Jr. performs the role of a clown in the "Death of Columbine" ballet number. Half brother Wheeler Dryden appears as the kindly doctor who treats Thereza after her suicide attempt.

But Limelight was primarily a one-man show with Chaplin writing, producing and directing the film. He composed the lyrical score, co-wrote the comedy songs and even choreographed the dance numbers. The "Death of Columbine" ballet number was originally conceived by Chaplin in 1950 for Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin. When filmed for Limelight the roles were performed by Andre Eglevsky and Melissa Hayden (who doubled for Bloom in all Thereza's dance scenes).

Musically gifted but lacking in formal education, Chaplin hired an assistant, Ray Rasch, to help him record his songs on paper. Rasch spent five to seven hours a day for nine months (at a rate of $5 per hour) sitting at the piano trying to capture the streams of memorized and improvised tunes that Chaplin hummed while pacing the room or reclining on a sofa. "I was sure that I had met up with a madman," Rasch said, "I couldn't believe that this was genius at work. He would bellow for hours at a time and all that I could hear was a senseless jumble. But suddenly he would strike a note or sometimes a whole phrase and would scream at me to play it and jot down the notes." Even though Rasch had no experience as an arranger, Chaplin insisted that he orchestrate the score. "When a melody satisfied him, he would go over it and over it. He didn't seem to care that I was just playing on a piano. He would ask for French horns in one spot; then violins and cellos and woodwinds. I just kept pounding away until he was satisfied."

Chaplin's eccentric working methods proved fruitful, as the film won an Academy Award for Best Musical Score. In one of the more unusual twists of Oscar history, Limelight won its award twenty years after the film was completed because it had not received a Los Angeles theatrical run until 1972, and was only then eligible for recognition.

The film had been scheduled to open in Los Angeles in January 1953, but the Fox West Coast Theatres chain canceled the engagements due to political pressure from the American Legion, who announced plans to picket the film. Because of Chaplin's involvement in liberal politics in the 1930s and his refusal to file for American citizenship during his years in the States, he was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. When Chaplin traveled to England to attend the premiere of Limelight, he was refused re-entry into the U.S., due to vague accusations of "making statements that would indicate a leering, sneering attitude toward a country whose hospitality has enriched him." In an open letter to Rep. J. Parnell Thomas, Chaplin wrote, "While you are preparing your engraved subpoena I will give you a hint on where I stand. I am not a Communist. I am a peacemonger."

Director: Charles Chaplin
Producer: Charles Chaplin
Screenplay: Charles Chaplin
Cinematography: Karl Struss
Production Design: Eugene Lourie
Music: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin (Calvero), Claire Bloom (Thereza), Nigel Bruce (Postant), Buster Keaton (Calvero's partner), Sydney Chaplin (Neville), Norman Lloyd (Bodalink), Marjorie Bennett (Mrs. Alsop).
BW-132m. Closed captioning.

by Bret Wood
Limelight

Limelight

In his last American film before returning to his British homeland, Chaplin stars as Calvero, an aging, out-of-work music hall clown in 1914 London. Wandering drunkenly into his boarding house one day, he discovers that a young neighbor, Thereza (Claire Bloom) has opened the gas jets of her stove in an attempt to kill herself. Calvero rescues the girl and nurses her back to health, trying to instill in her a greater will to live. But just as Terry, an aspiring ballerina who has lost the use of her legs, is regaining her own confidence, Calvero faces professional setbacks of his own and slips into alcoholic self-pity. In spite of their hardships, the two lost souls come to rely upon each other, form a romantic bond, and are ultimately afforded a last opportunity to grasp the theatrical dreams that have so long eluded them. Five years elapsed between Limelight (1952) and Chaplin's previous film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947). Always a meticulous director who involved himself in every facet of production, Chaplin reportedly spent two and a half years working on the script of Limelight. He even wrote a two-part "novel" which detailed the back-story of the two central characters. Variety quipped upon the film's release, "Limelight is a one-man show since Chaplin does almost everything but grow his own rawstock." As the script neared completion, Chaplin conducted a talent search for the role of Thereza, placing a classified ad in a trade publication which read, "WANTED: Young girl to play leading lady to a comedian generally recognized as world's greatest. Must be between 20-24 years of age. Stage, ballet experience preferable but not necessary. Apply Charles Chaplin Studios, Hollywood." This may have merely been a means of stirring publicity for the film, for the "discovery" of the leading lady was ultimately made by playwright Arthur Laurents, who recommended Bloom to the filmmaker after seeing her on the London stage in Ring Around the Moon in 1951. Chaplin asked Bloom to make a screen test, so during a week's hiatus in the play's run, she raced to New York for a filmed audition. It was four months before Chaplin notified her that she had been selected for the role. Bloom and her mother often dined with Chaplin after the day's shooting and recalled that, "he spoke endlessly of his early poverty; the atmosphere he was creating for Limelight brought him back night after night to the melancholy of those years at home with his mother and brother." For Chaplin, Limelight was a sentimental revisitation of his early years as a struggling entertainer in the music halls of London. When asked about these aspects of the story, Chaplin told writer Richard Lauterbach, "Everything is autobiographical," then cautiously added, "but don't make too much of that." Limelight is a melancholy valentine to all the great clowns of history, with homage to opera's tearful Pagliacci; the traditional pantomime of Harlequin, Pierrot and Columbine; and the bouncy risqu¿ritish stage comedians of Chaplin's youth. A poster on Calvero's wall, advertising the "Tramp Comedian," is a clear reference to Chaplin's own legendary persona. But Calvero's tramp is a different creation, wearing a straw boater and upturned moustache and, unlike the silent-screen "Little Tramp," this one speaks and sings. Chaplin paid tribute to his fellow veterans of the slapstick cinema by populating Limelight with faces familiar to comedy cinephiles. Buster Keaton appears onstage with Calvero in the film's comic climax, while smaller roles are filled by slapstick comedians Snub Pollard and Loyal Underwood (a supporting player in Chaplin's Mutual and First National comedy shorts), who play street musicians. Chaplin's former leading lady -- Edna Purviance -- is said to appear briefly as an audience member in the ballet sequence. In addition to his professional family, Chaplin welcomed his own relatives to Limelight. Three of his children -- Geraldine, Michael and Josephine -- are the waifs who watch with amusement as Calvero drunkenly attempts to enter his domicile (a scene that recalls Chaplin's 1916 short One A.M.). Chaplin's eldest son Sydney portrays Neville, the starving musician who is the object of Thereza's affection, and Charles Jr. performs the role of a clown in the "Death of Columbine" ballet number. Half brother Wheeler Dryden appears as the kindly doctor who treats Thereza after her suicide attempt. But Limelight was primarily a one-man show with Chaplin writing, producing and directing the film. He composed the lyrical score, co-wrote the comedy songs and even choreographed the dance numbers. The "Death of Columbine" ballet number was originally conceived by Chaplin in 1950 for Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin. When filmed for Limelight the roles were performed by Andre Eglevsky and Melissa Hayden (who doubled for Bloom in all Thereza's dance scenes). Musically gifted but lacking in formal education, Chaplin hired an assistant, Ray Rasch, to help him record his songs on paper. Rasch spent five to seven hours a day for nine months (at a rate of $5 per hour) sitting at the piano trying to capture the streams of memorized and improvised tunes that Chaplin hummed while pacing the room or reclining on a sofa. "I was sure that I had met up with a madman," Rasch said, "I couldn't believe that this was genius at work. He would bellow for hours at a time and all that I could hear was a senseless jumble. But suddenly he would strike a note or sometimes a whole phrase and would scream at me to play it and jot down the notes." Even though Rasch had no experience as an arranger, Chaplin insisted that he orchestrate the score. "When a melody satisfied him, he would go over it and over it. He didn't seem to care that I was just playing on a piano. He would ask for French horns in one spot; then violins and cellos and woodwinds. I just kept pounding away until he was satisfied." Chaplin's eccentric working methods proved fruitful, as the film won an Academy Award for Best Musical Score. In one of the more unusual twists of Oscar history, Limelight won its award twenty years after the film was completed because it had not received a Los Angeles theatrical run until 1972, and was only then eligible for recognition. The film had been scheduled to open in Los Angeles in January 1953, but the Fox West Coast Theatres chain canceled the engagements due to political pressure from the American Legion, who announced plans to picket the film. Because of Chaplin's involvement in liberal politics in the 1930s and his refusal to file for American citizenship during his years in the States, he was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee. When Chaplin traveled to England to attend the premiere of Limelight, he was refused re-entry into the U.S., due to vague accusations of "making statements that would indicate a leering, sneering attitude toward a country whose hospitality has enriched him." In an open letter to Rep. J. Parnell Thomas, Chaplin wrote, "While you are preparing your engraved subpoena I will give you a hint on where I stand. I am not a Communist. I am a peacemonger." Director: Charles Chaplin Producer: Charles Chaplin Screenplay: Charles Chaplin Cinematography: Karl Struss Production Design: Eugene Lourie Music: Charles Chaplin Cast: Charles Chaplin (Calvero), Claire Bloom (Thereza), Nigel Bruce (Postant), Buster Keaton (Calvero's partner), Sydney Chaplin (Neville), Norman Lloyd (Bodalink), Marjorie Bennett (Mrs. Alsop). BW-132m. Closed captioning. by Bret Wood

Quotes

There's something about working the streets I like. It's the tramp in me I suppose.
- Calvero
Time is the best author. It always write the perfect ending.
- Calvero
I thought you hated the theater?
- Terry
I also hate the sight of blood, but it's in my veins.
- Calvero
That's all any of us are: amateurs. We don't live long enough to be anything else.
- Calvero
I'm sorry
- Terry
You should be. A girl like you want to throw your life away. When you reach my age you want to cling unto it
- Calvero

Trivia

Charles Chaplin, Raymond Rasch, and Larry Russell won the Oscar for Best Original Score for this film, but it was the Oscar for films released in 1972. The film had never played in a Los Angeles area cinema during the intervening 20 years and was not eligible for Oscar consideration until it did.

When some scenes were re-shot, 'Bloom, Claire' was unavailable, so Chaplin's wife, Oona O'Neill, stood in for her. She can be seen lying in the bed through the doorway after the housemaid has told Chaplin's character that his "wife" isn't eating.

The rumor has been widely circulated that Buster Keaton was much funnier than Chaplin in their scene together so Chaplin cut Keaton's best scenes. In "Buster Keaton Remembered" by Keaton's widow Eleanor Keaton, it is stated that the rumor is untrue; it was started by Raymond Rohauer, Keaton's business partner. The point of the scene was to show Chaplin as Calvero having one final triumph before he has a heart attack and dies. It would not have made sense for Keaton, who was not even a character in the movie, to outshine Chaplin.

Edna Purviance, Chaplin's favorite co-star from the silent era, makes her final film appearance in a small role. Edna, who remained close to Chaplin throughout her life, rarely worked in films after the 1920s. Chaplin kept her on his payroll until she died.

In once scene, Calvero (Chaplin) quips "It's the tramp in me", which is a nod to his Little Tramp character which propelled him to fame and fortune in a series of silent films.

Notes

The working title of this film was Footlight. A written onscreen foreword reads: "The glamour of limelight, from which age must pass as youth enters. A story of a ballerina and a clown...London; a late afternoon in the summer of 1914..." Although copyright records list the film's running time as 102 minutes, all other sources list it as either 138 or 143 minutes.
       Charles Chaplin worked for two and a half years on the screenplay of Limelight and then devoted nine months to the score, six months to shooting and one year to post-production work. According to a March 1952 Life article, the original manuscript was 750 pages long. A modern source credits James Agee as helping Chaplin edit the screenplay. In February 1951, Chaplin placed a newspaper advertisement to find an unknown actress to play "Thereza." He stated in an April 1951 New York Times news item that he had seen almost 300 actresses. After casting Claire Bloom, he told Hollywood Citizen-News in November 1951 that he would not allow her to do any pre-publicity, in order to keep her appearance "fresh." She went on to win critical acclaim as Thereza, which was only her second film role. Although the movie's theme song, "Eternally (Terry's Theme)," was written by Chaplin with words by Geoffrey Parsons, only an instrumental version was used in the film. The song went on to gain prominence when recorded by Sarah Vaughan and others.
       Upon completing the film, Chaplin sailed to London for the October 16, 1952 world premiere. In his autobiography, Chaplin, who retained his British citizenship throughout his career and never became a U.S. citizen, reported that he asked to leave for Europe and receive a re-entry permit. He was then visited by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who claimed that he owed $200,000 in back taxes and interrogated him for several hours. Chaplin was then given a six-month re-entry permit, which was immediately revoked after he left for England, pending an inquiry into political and moral charges against him. Although there was no clear evidence against Chaplin, the government was concerned with his possible ties to the Communist party and also investigated his involvement in former paramour Joan Barry's abortion. The Justice Department initiated a probe against the director, headed by Attorney General James P. McGranery, who, according to a January 1953 Los Angeles Examiner article, labeled Chaplin "an unsavory character...indicating a leering, sneering attitude toward the country whose gracious hospitality enriched him." Chaplin stated in his autobiography that although he was not a Communist, he was not opposed to their beliefs, and condemned the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
       As the controversy raged, distributor United Artists continued its release plan to open the film in New York in October 1952. The American Legion's national committee called for all distributors to withhold the picture until the Department of Justice made its ruling, and in an October 1952 Los Angeles Times item, criticized Chaplin's "contemptuous attitude toward American patriotism," as well as his "views of personal morality." Although the New York opening and other East Coast screenings went as planned, various veterans' groups joined forces with the Legion and threatened to picket the film's California opening, and RKO board chairman Howard Hughes urged RKO theaters not to book the film, prompting distributor Fox West Coast to cancel the scheduled December showings in Los Angeles. The chain stated in an October 1952 Los Angeles Times article that they did not want to be a "guinea pig" in testing public reaction to the film's showing. Soon, the rest of the country also bowed to public pressure and banned the picture. Limelight was Chaplin's last American film. He moved to Vevey, Switzerland and vowed never to return to the United States.
       Because Limelight did not receive a Los Angeles screening during 1952, it was not eligible for that year's Academy Awards. The film went on to win several international awards, including the Italian Film Critics Association Silver Ribbon award for best foreign film. It received its first California screening in October 1955, when it opened in San Francisco for one week. Then, on December 13, 1972, Limelight had its Los Angeles premiere, released by Columbia Pictures, and won the 1972 Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score (Chaplin, Ray Rasch and Larry Russell). Breaking his promise never to set foot on American soil again, Chaplin returned in 1972 for a special lifetime achievement Academy Award. He died in Switzerland in 1977, after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
       Limelight marked the motion picture debuts of Sydney Chaplin and Charles Chaplin, Jr., Chaplin's sons by his second wife, actress Lita Grey. Other family members in the cast included Chaplin's young children by his wife Oona O'Neil, Josephine, Geraldine and Michael; and his half-brother, Wheeler Dryden. A January 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item includes Trevor Ward, Doris Lloyd and Richard Dean in the cast, but their appearance in the final picture has not been confirmed. The film marked the first time that Chaplin and Buster Keaton worked together.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1972

Released in United States January 1989

Released in United States Winter February 6, 1953

Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Charlie Chaplin Series) January 22 & 25, 1989.

Released in USA on video.

Released in United States 1972 (Los Angeles)

Released in United States January 1989 (Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Charlie Chaplin Series) January 22 & 25, 1989.)

Geraldine Chaplin's role was a bit part as a child.

Released in United States Winter February 6, 1953