City Lights (1931)

<strong class="MovieTitle">City Lights</strong> (1931)

(Kanopy streaming, October 2018) You’d be forgiven for mistaking one Charlie Chaplin movie for another—relying on the Tramp for most of his best-known filmography made it easy to have faithful viewers, but they do blur together most of his movies in the same mould. City Lights is The One with the Blind Girl, and the Tramp semi-accidentally passing himself off to her as a rich person. Much of the film’s main dramatic plot is exceptionally sentimental—having to do with the protagonist making money not to climb out of poverty, but to be able to pay for the surgery that will restore her sight. The ending is made more powerful by Chaplin’s tendency to deliver bittersweet endings: what we expect is not necessarily what happens. Still, the plot remains in service of comic set pieces, most of them coming from the Tramp’s misadventure alongside a rich man with a drinking problem. Other set pieces include the Tramp waking up on a newly unveiled statue, being in the boxing ring, or fighting off robbers within a department store. Technically, City Lights an interesting case—deliberately made by Chaplin as a silent film even when sound was available (something that would carry on to a few later movies), it has a soundtrack but little speech. The result does stand as one of Chaplin’s top films—although I do prefer The Dictator and Modern Times. If you like Chaplin, you’ll like City Lights. If you don’t, well I’m not sure that’s the film to convince you otherwise.

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