City Lights (1931) Director: Charlie Chaplin
City Lights: A Comedy of Romance in Pantomime was released three years after the rise of talkies. It was the lone film that was released despite the growth in popularity of sound films, yet it was remarkably not nominated for a single Academy Award.
Again, Charlie Chaplin reprises his ‘Little Tramp’ character that appeared in many of his early films until the final appearance of the character in Modern Times. It opens with a satire against talkies as a public official announces a new public monument, though the audiences can only hear mumbles, and when the tarp is lifted, the Tramp is found sleeping on the monument. After getting stuck on the statue, he walks through the city pretending to admire a nude Greco-Roman artwork in a window while narrowly avoiding falling in a construction zone.
He then comes upon a blind flower girl and falls in love with her. Later, he befriends a millionaire who is drunk after preventing him from killing himself in the river. Together, they return to his mansion and enjoy drinks together before hitting the town in his expensive car. He uses his connection with the millionaire to play the gentleman with the blind girl and impress her with the car and money. The Tramp promises to pay her rent bill of $22.00.
However, as the wealthy man sobers up, he forgets the Tramp and the Tramp fruitlessly tries to win the money in a boxing match. Later he returns to the millionaire while he is drunk but his house is being robbed. He gives the Tramp money but when the police arrive, they believe the Tramp has stolen the money. He narrowly escapes and gives the money to the blind girl for her rent and so she can get surgery to fix her eyes, but he reminds her that he must go away for awhile. After he is let out of prison, he gets into a scuffle on the street and then finds his love who has opened a flower shop. The film closes as she recognizes him and he smiles.
City Lights is arguably Chaplin’s greatest film. It is not only a hilarious slapstick comedy, but also a great film filled with rich satire. It comes highly recommended to lovers of classic film.