Top 100 Movie Review: No. 068 – City Lights (1931)

Ranked 068 on the IMDB Top 100 Movie List (as May 2017).  Watched May 2019.

Cast: Charles Chaplin (Tramp), Virginia Cherrill (Blind Girl), Florence Lee (Blind Girl’s Grandmother), Harry Myers (Millionaire), Al Ernest Garcia (Butler), Hank Mann (Prizefighter)
Director: Charlie Chaplin
My rating: 9.0 / 10

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into the city, where he meets a beautiful, blind flower girl who he immediately becomes infatuated with, and buys a flower with his last coin .

That night, he stops a drunken man from drowning himself. Gratefully, the man invites him to his mansion, which is presided over by a snobby butler as they get drunk. The millionaire and the tramp continue their evening at a nightclub. The next morning, when they return home, the millionaire drunkenly offers the tramp money and the use of his Rolls Royce. The tramp uses his windfalls to help the flower girl. Because she cannot see his shabby clothes, the girl thinks her benefactor is a wealthy young man but tells her grandmother that doesn’t matter.

Determined to help her, the tramp returns to the mansion, but the millionaire having sobered up does not recognize him. The flower girl gets sick and the grandmother goes out a sells flowers on her behalf. The tramp also gets a job cleaning streets and gives the girl and her grandmother what money he can. By accident the tramp finds out they are behind in their rent and that there is a doctor in Vienna who can cure blindness by an expensive operation.

The Needing money in a hurry to help his friends, the tramp agrees to participate in a crooked boxing match for a cut of the winning purse, but his crooked partner is replaced by a legitmate fighter, after a multi round fight where the tramp does surprisingly well until he is knocked out.

Out on the streets, the tramp runs into the millionaire, who is back from Europe. Drunk again he remembers the tramp, he gladly gives the tramp $1,000 for the blind girls operation, but two crooks see the transaction and rob them. The tramp calls the police, but by the time they arrive, the crooks have vanished and the police arrest the tramp. He runs away and manages to give the money to the girl before he is taken off to jail.

The girl gets her operation and opens up a successful flower shop, imagining her benefactor in every rich young man who comes into the shop. When the tramp gets out of jail, he wanders into the shop by accident. Naturally, she does not recognize him, and laughingly offers him a flower and a coin. He refuses the money, but when she presses it into his hand, she recognizes him by the feel of his skin and is moved.

What’s to Like
The slapstick comedy, the actors ability to convey their messages without voices, the unintelligible squawks from the politicians at the start.

What’s not to Like

Made three years into the era of sound or the talkie Chaplin decided to go with a silent movie but did include a musical score and sound effects.

Chaplin plays his classic character the untitled Tramp. The tramp’s shabby appearance sets him apart and cues people to avoid and stereotype him; a tramp is not one of us. This character was a major movie draw for Chaplin across many movies.

Despite his low social standing the tramp always acts like a good hearted gentleman even if he is constantly getting into trouble and laugh out loud situations. This movie is always funny and it does keep you guessing whether the blind girl is only interested in the tramp due to his money or his kindness.

The ending of the movie highlights the message about not just judging someone by their appearance as the girl, whose sight has been restored by an operation paid for by the Tramp, now sees him as a tramp or vagrant but even without recognising her benefactor still smiles at him, and gives him a rose and some money, and then, touching his hands, finally recognises him.

“You?” she asks (on the title card) he nods, tries to smile asking, “You can see now?” “Yes,” she says, “I can see now.” She sees him dishevelled but still smiles at the tramp and accepts him. The Tramp guessed correctly: the flower girl has a good heart, and is able to accept him as himself not a wealthy or successful man.

The movie is a real throw back to a different era of films and I can understand why it is considered one of the greatest silent movies.

Academy Awards
No awards.

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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