Original release: 1931
Running length: 87 minutes
Once dubbed as the most famous man in the world, Charlie Chaplin has long been recognized as one of the preeminent icons of both comedy and cinema.
From 1914 until 1967, Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, and starred in over 80 films, quickly advancing from basic slapstick to a unique comic style – immaculately constructed, deeply human, and always hilarious.
“Comes closest to representing all the different notes of Chaplin’s genius.” -Roger Ebert
City Lights begins with an uproarious skewering of pomp and formality, ends with one of the most famous last shots in movie history and, from start to finish, so completely touches the heart and tickles the funny bone that in 1998 it was named one of the American Film Institute’s Top-100 American Films.
Talkies were well entrenched when Charles Chaplin swam against the filmmaking tide with this classic that is silent except for music and sound effects. The story, involving the Tramp’s attempt to get money for an operation that will restore sight to a blind flower girl, provides the star with an ideal framework for sentiment and laughs. The Tramp is variously a street sweeper, a boxer, a rich poseur, and a rescuer of a suicidal millionaire. His message is unspoken, but universally understood: love is blind.
Not a lot of early filmmakers have the recognition and popularity in today’s culture that Chaplin enjoys. This could be because of many reasons. His films speak to the everyman and are gut-bustingly hilarious, but more than that, his stories look at melancholic situations in a humorous light. Such is the case with what is probably his most personal picture, City Lights, which tells the tale of a tramp and his efforts to impress as well as help out a poor blind flower girl. He does so under a facade, pretending to be a rich man in order to grab her attention, but runs into trouble while doing so. When a movie continues to be just as funny and touching in the present-day as it was over 75 years ago, that usually means there’s something the filmmaker is doing right. City Lights has left its mark on the world with its depiction of poverty and life during the hard years of the Depression, which is so well-executed and felt that it never fails to move the audience, all the while giving them hope of a better tomorrow.