Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers
The movie is set in London in 1914, on the eve of World War I. Calvero (Chaplin), once a famous stage clown but now a washed-up drunk, saves a young dancer, Thereza, alias Terry (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 are less successful. Terry says she wants to marry Calvero despite their age difference, although she has befriended Neville, a young composer whom 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 wth his old partner (Keaton), Calvero gives a triumphant comeback performance but suffers a heart attack and dies in the wings while just a few feet away Terry, the second act on the bill, is dancing on stage.
Limelight is one of Chaplin's less well-known films, but provides some important insights into his personality and career. The film is unashamedly preachy and sentimental. It is also Chaplin's most personal movie. His own film career began in 1914, and in the story of an aging entertainer looking back over his glorious career Chaplin seems to be facing the fear that he himself may be all washed up. It is certainly significant that in the fading stage posters on Calvero's wall he is described as a "tramp comic", and indeed in some of his stage performances in the film he wears a ragged outfit that is clearly a variation on Chaplin's Little Tramp costume. Terry's story - orphaned at an early age, her sister forced into prostitution - also has clear similarities to that of Chaplin's mother.
Although the film is set in London it was entirely filmed in Hollywood. The run-down street where Calvero lives was built on a backlot; some exterior scenes use back-projected footage of London. In any case, most of the action takes place indoors. Most of the cast are either British or have convincing British accents, a notable exception being Chaplin himself, who had after all been living in the US for decades.
This was soon to change. 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. To add insult to injury, Limelight was banned in the US, although fortunately copies were already in circulation in other countries which meant that the US authorities could not order the film impounded or destroyed. It was not until 1972 that the film was finally seen in America, and Chaplin was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score. The Academy subsequently changed the rules to prevent films more than two years old receiving awards.