Sunday, January 30, 2011

City Lights (1931)

Time to watch my first Charlie Chaplin movie! Yay! His silent classic City Lights follows his downtrodden but enthusiastic Tramp character as he befriends an alcoholic millionaire, falls in love with flower girl, and takes up boxing to make some money. Unfortunately, the millionaire only remembers him when he's drunk and kicks him out when he sobers up, the girl is blind and believes the Tramp to be a wealthy gentleman who can help her financially, and he's not very good at boxing.

It's been a while since I've seen a good old-fashioned slapstick comedy, and I found myself really appreciating the enthusiasm and lack of ego that went into Chaplin's performance. He's willing to make himself look so ridiculous for the sake of a laugh, and it just makes his character all the more endearing. He's clumsy and a bit odd, but earnest and kind, and really his biggest setback seems to be bad luck. From his introduction in the first scene as he struggles to break free from an aggressively pointy sculpture, I was laughing out loud, and as he navigates the oft-unfriendly streets of the city and manages to find friendship and beauty along the way, it's easy to fall in love with the guy in general.

The story is simple enough, but engaging and often clever. I was struck by the level of dramatic content strewn throughout, leading up to an ultimately touching ending. It's primarily a comedy I think, but definitely does its fair share of heart-string-tugging as things get worse and worse for our heroes.

Other nice things that I wanted to note: Isn't it cool that a white-person movie from 1931 has a black character who is just a regular guy? Like, he's not a servant or something. And he's doing a sport with white people. Anyone know if boxing was segregated in the 1930's? I have no idea about sports history. (Spoiler Alert) Also isn't it cool that the blind lady is able to get her own flower shop and support herself after her operation? She doesn't even have to get married or anything! I guess you can't be successful AND blind, though, which is too bad.

Anyway, City Lights is really great.


Pair This Movie With: The dinner scene reminded me of my own favorite slapstick comedy, Bringing Up Baby, which I think would make a fun double feature.


  1. I do love this movie. As you go through more Chaplin films be sure to note the drama. Despite being primarily known as a comedian, Chaplin films are almost always backed by a message. The most glaring example of this is obviously The Great Dictator, but it's there from Modern Times to The Kid and so on.

    Glad you enjoyed it, and hope you venture out for more Chaplin works.

  2. Love this movie! On the subject of the black character, given the era, I think it's cool that he wasn't played by a white actor in black face.

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