City Lights

City Lights

Available on iTunes, HBO Max
Made in 1931 shortly after the introduction of the talkies, Charlie Chaplins City Lights is nonetheless near-silent. Chaplin was afraid that, should his universally known and beloved Tramp speak onscreen, he would be severely limited and compromised as a character. And so, City Lights is billed as "pantomime", a piece of cinema harking back to the manners and methods of an already defunct era. Chaplin fell out of fashion towards the end of the 20th century as a new wave of comedians (Rowan Atkinson for one) castigated him for what they saw as his excessive, maudlin sentimentality. Certainly, City Lights which sees Chaplins Tramp befriended by a blind flower girl who mistakes him for a rich benefactor is hokum indeed. Accepting this, however, what makes the film so marvellous is the deceptive skill and artistry of Chaplin the filmmaker, the immaculate timing and acrobatic grace of his seemingly slapstick comedy, in particular a justly famous boxing sequence. Chaplins sparing use of sound is inventive also: the wordless waffle of public speakers in the opening scene and another in which the tramp swallows a whistle. Moreover, the conclusion, in which the dishevelled Tramp encounters again the flower girl, her eyesight restored is sentimentality notwithstanding one of the most moving and superbly executed scenes in cinema history, not least for its economy and restraint.
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers
Director Charlie Chaplin