#35: City Lights (1931)

When and how did I watch this?

March 25th, 2017, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?


What did I know about the movie before watching it?

It’s The Tramp, back at it again in another silent, this time falling in love with a blind woman.  The premise is a hook already.

What do I know about it now?

Oh Mr. Chaplin, what have you done to me?  Modern Times was somewhat of a disappointment, but City Lights turns you into a sap quickly.  The Tramp (Chaplin) is, like every version I’ve seen, a poor man but a man full of heart and whimsy. After being established as the protagonist in a hilarious statue scene, he befriends and immediately falls for a blind flower girl, and then befriends an alcoholic millionaire who doesn’t recognize the Tramp when he’s sober, and plunges into unabashed generosity to the point of giving the Tramp his Rolls Royce when he’s liquored up.  Endless laugh-out-loud moments take place in between, a true showcase of Chaplin’s humor and ability to control his face, and when the Tramp manages to acquire some money for his love to have surgery to repair her blindness, he ends up in jail for a time.  When he is released, perhaps one of the greatest and most touching finales takes place when the impoverished anew Tramp runs into the flower girl, now a flower shop owner, and reveals himself to be “the one”. I was moved nearly to tears, and this was accomplished in a silent picture — with an incredible accompanying score, composed by Chaplin himself, of course. What an entertaining and timeless piece of cinema.

What are some themes in the film?

Social class, love and romance, sight and perception

Did this affect me personally?

While the final scene certainly warrants its praise, the boxing scene had me rolling. He comes into the ring after an unusual chain of circumstances, carrying his own bucket and wearing his suit coat as a robe.  What happens next might be the funniest thing you’ll see today. See it for yourself:

Why is this ranked #35?

It’s the highest ranked Chaplin film on the IMDb Top 250, and rightfully so.  It’s really the only film besides The General that didn’t suffer because of its silent film limitations, and I learned afterward that it was produced after silent films were considered passé. It’s a remarkable achievement from the legendary Chaplin, and clearly this is recognized by viewers.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She missed most of this one.

Would I watch it again?

This film has among the highest replay values on the list.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

It’s likely a film you’ve never heard of or seen for yourself.  And even if you had, you’d be likely to pass it by for its silent attribute.  Nonetheless, it’s a film I must recommend, and it’s one you’ll never forget.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

It has everything you could ever hope for in a film, and it’s older than almost everyone you know. Chaplin’s genius as an actor/director/composer is on full display here, demonstrating his comedic timing, sense of pace, and control of rise and fall, and providing an incomparably satisfying conclusion.

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