Chaplin's first picture in five years has for its theme "the glamor of the limelight—from which age must pass as youth enters."… However Limelight is garnished with a little Freud, some ballet, a few aphorisms about life, and a certain artiness….
In accord with Chaplin's tendency of recent years, there is little comedy in Limelight. One of Chaplin's lines in this picture is: "Life isn't a gag any more. From now on I'm a retired humorist." There is scarcely a trace of the gags, satire, fantasy, caricature and slapstick of his earlier work. (p. 466)
Limelight is filled with autobiographical overtones. Although there is something in it of Chaplin's father, a music hall entertainer of the nineties, much more of the story and of the dialogue derives from Chaplin's position today. He was stung to the quick by the financial failure of Monsieur Verdoux, the only one of his 77 films which did not make money. (p. 468)
[Because] of his egocentricity, he never really immerses himself in the story. There is a pervading narcissism, and not infrequent vanity….
It would be pleasant, at this point in Chaplin's career, to state that Limelight is his greatest film. Unfortunately, it is not…. Limelight seems to have been designed to please audiences, instead of merely Chaplin himself, as of yore. Chaplin long ago became too refined to be able to do his old comedy, and, as he says in Limelight: "What a sad business is being funny!"
In spite of the shortcomings I enumerated, there is a strange glow to Limelight…. [There] does emerge once more that something so characteristic of Chaplin, that humanity which has warmed millions all over the world for nearly forty years. (p. 470)
Theodore Huff, "Film Reviews: 'Limelight'," in Films in Review (copyright © 1952 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Inc.), Vol. III, No. 8, October, 1952, pp. 466-70.