City Lights (1931)
Charlie Chaplin never tries to make his movies about the success of an individual, rather they are an artistic take on the unlikely event that love can occur in the oddest of places. For his comedies, he always centers himself as the ragamuffin character, waiting on good times to roll around and spare him the life of the beggar.
With "City Lights" there is nothing different here except that Chaplin takes a little longer to finish his inevitable story line. The movie begins as a city is unveiling a new series of statues and when the covering is lifted for its debut, they find a tramp sleeping in the arms of one of the statues...how horrifying!
The tramp gets out of their hair and goes about his day, nothing particularly special happens until he meets a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) selling roses by the side of the street. She is quite pretty and he immediately wants to impress her so he buys a flower and then sneaks off, coming back to spy on her.
There is one more player to "City Lights", a rich and suicidal man (Harry Myers). Typical of "classic silent comedy", tragedy is not that far off. When the tramp first meets the rich man, the millionaire is trying to kill himself. He has tied a rope around his neck and around a rock and he's prepared to drown himself. The tramp tells him to lighten up because the sun will shine tomorrow and he should be around for that...the humor of the situation is how the tramp almost dies several times trying to "save" the man.
After the situation is cleared up, the drunken rich man invites the tramp back to his house for more drinks and more suicide attempts.
The tramp removes all dangerous objects from the house and then falls asleep. Unfortunately for him, the rich man is an entirely different character when he's sober and upon waking up, claims that he's never seen the tramp before and has him thrown out.
This is just one of the several times that the two will meet.
As he is being courted by the rich man, the tramp now has access to money and he tries to return to the blind girl's corner as often as possible to try to build a friendship. We're not sure what will come of this, but she does seem genuinely flattered by his advances.
"City Lights" doesn't have the emotional impact that Chaplin's other work does. It's not as funny and not as endearing. Scenes take far too long like Chaplin waiting to box for money. It drags on and on and it's not suspenseful or amusing. The fight itself it too long as well.
"City Lights", you'll find, is the director's most lauded work and certainly one of the most famous silent movies of all time. I find nothing particularly special about it. Chaplin did greater work in his career such as "The Gold Rush" or "Modern Times".
All this to say the movie isn't bad, in fact the opposite is true. "City Lights" is enjoyable and heart-warming and it's hard not to tear up a little at the last scenes.
Still, it's not a masterpiece and not even close to Chaplin's best, but well worth the time put into watching it and vital to include in the director's career.
Posted by Micah Jones