Release Year: 1931
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Al Ernest Garcia, Hank Mann
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #190, week 6 2018
A tramp (Charles Chaplin) falls in love with a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who mistakes him for a millionaire. When he befriends a drunken millionaire he eyes a chance to keep up the pretense, but the millionaire’s friendship is fickle and he has to use all his ingenuity to help the flower girl when she gets a chance to regain her sight through expensive surgery.
Few people, if any, have left as lasting and enormous an impact on Hollywood as Charlie Chaplin (The Great Dictator, 1940). His lovable, goofy, yet resourceful Tramp is surely one of the greatest characters to ever grace the silver screen. One of his most famous “Tramp” pictures is the 1931 romantic comedy, in which the Tramp falls helplessly in love with a blind and poor flower girl. Naturally, the plot thickens and takes one hilarious turns after another, and we get to see Chaplin both as a heroic underdog, a poor man in love, and watches him go from great lows, to great highs and back again as the story progresses. The result speaks volumes of both Chaplin’s acting range and his talents as a writer and a director. City Lights is a silent film in an era where talkies were taking over the market, but it speaks volumes without dialogue. Chaplin had a gift for conveying bucket loads without sound, which earned him star status in his day, and a Chaplin film is a good way to start if you want to get into silent films. There is a timeless quality to all of his films and in particular his humour, which works across time and culture. City Lights also touhes the heart string with a beautiful central love story and Cherrill (Fast Workers, 1933) captures a sweet innocence as the flower girl. Another important figure is the drunken millionaire whom the Tramp saves from suicide and becomes his greatest friend while he is drinking (which is most nights), but doesn’t remember him at all when he is sober and seasoned short film actor and director Harry Myers is absolutely hilarious! A great plot ensures that we get to see Chaplin in a boxing ring, sweeping the streets, upsetting the mayor, among the highest of the high and the lowest of the low. A great and timeless rom-com and a highpoint in Chaplin’s career.
City Lights was Charlie Chaplin’s favourite among his own films and favourite film of both Orson Welles and Andrei Tarkovsky. It was also one of the favourite films of Stanle Kubrick.
This was Chaplin’s first film made in the sound era. He was under great pressure from the studio to make the film a talkie but he had such star power that he was able to make it a silent film albeit with recorded music and sound effects.
The millionaire subplot was based on an old idea Chaplin had for a short film, where two millionaires pick up the Little Tramp from the city dump and show him a good time in expensive clubs, and then drop him back off at the dump, so when he woke up the Tramp would not know if it was real or a dream. This was rewritten into a millionaire who is a friend of the Tramp when drunk, but does not recognize him when sober.
Picture Copyright: Warner Bros.