City Lights (1931)

city lights poster 1931 movie charlie chaplin
10 Overall Score
Story: 10/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 10/10

Classic Chaplin in a classic film


Movie Info

Movie Name:   City Lights

Studio:   Charles Chaplin Productions

Genre(s):   Silent/Comedy/Romance

Release Date(s):   January 30, 1931

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

city lights tramp sewing scene charlie chaplin virginia cherrill

Why does this thread smell?

The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) is always finding trouble.  When he befriends a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) who sells flowers, a case of mistaken identity leads her to believe he’s a wealthy man.  Fortunately for the Tramp, a chance encounter with a rich, drunken, suicidal aristocrat (Harry Myers) has allowed him to keep the pretense up.  When the aristocrat sobers up and the Tramp loses his financial support, the Tramp must find if it is true love…and the fate of the girl and her health could hang in the balance!

Written, directed, and produced by Charlie Chaplin, City Lights was a silent romantic comedy.  The film followed Chaplin’s The Circus from 1928.  The film was released to wide critical acclaim and has since been regarded as a classic.  The film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 1991 and the film was released as part of the Criterion Collection in a remastered version (Criterion #680).

city lights boxing scene charlie chaplin

Float like a butterlfy…well just keep floating

City Lights was a bit of a novelty when it was released.  Talkies were taking over the film and there were very few silent pictures being put out by 1931.  After a long delay, Chaplin produced a silent film…something that the studios questioned if people still wanted.  City Lights turned into one of Chaplin’s best.

The story is a typical story for the Tramp with a case of mistaken identity and a romance built in, but it is crafted in a way that is stylish and classy.  You can see the ending coming but the story is such a mix of happiness and malaise that it becomes a toss-up of what could occur.  The hour and a half goes by quickly and is a fun little ride.

Of course, most of the movie owes itself to Charlie Chaplin.  You can tell as an actor that he’s giving it all.  Being so involved in the film’s production made it even more important that it turned out right, and Chaplin nails his performance.  He’s aided by Virginia Cherrill who is sympathetic as the blind girl and Harry Myers who gives a great performance as a drunk.

city lights final scene tramp charlie chaplin virginia cherrill

Making fun of homeless people is fun! (in 1931)

The movie also looks great.  The city isn’t just “New York City” and it is a blend of urban areas (you can see palm trees at one point).  It is meant to be a city story from any city and it works.  The remastered version of the film is clean and crisp and really shows how well preserved Chaplin’s work is compared to other films of the time.

City Lights is a deserving classic.  It shows the path of film, and a great actor at his best.  Even if you don’t like silent films, you should give City Lights a try.  It is worth it and it is attainable for people of all ages…even children with some help.  Chaplin followed City Lights with another great film in The Dictator in 1940.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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