Classic Movie Review: City Lights (1931)


Title: City Lights
Release Date: January 30, 1931
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Production Company: United Artists
Summary/Review:

Four years after the first “talkie,” Charlie Chaplin released another one his masterpieces of silent film.  It’s kind of fascinating how Chaplain resisted the shift to talking films.  On the one hand, there is great artistry in silent film, especially in the hands of an auteur like Chaplin. On the other hand, silent films existed primarily due to technical challenges.  Considering that the theatre had speaking roles for thousands of years, it’s not too hard to believe that early filmmakers wanted to replicate that. Chaplin makes light of “talkies” early on by featuring politicians delivering speeches at the dedication of a statue where the sound of gibberish comes from their mouths.

The main plot of the movie focuses on the Little Tramp (Chaplain) and his perambulations through the city.  One night he saves a millionaire (Harry Myers) from drowning himself.  In gratitude, the millionaire invites the Tramp for a night out on the town. When he returns to visit his new friend, the millionaire has no memory of him. A recurring gag has Myers’ character only remember the Tramp when he’s drunk.

The other main plot line focuses on the Tramp falling for a blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) who sells flowers.  He befriends her, and takes up jobs – as a street sweeper and a boxer (each with their own set of gags) – to try to raise money to help her restore her vision.  Eventually he is able to get her the money, but at a personal cost.  The final scene is one of the more touching and heartwarming scenes ever recorded on film.

Rating: ****

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