Plot: A tramp (Charlie Chaplin) finds himself in one awkward predicament after another, including being asleep on a new statue as it was unveiled, with a large crowd on hand to watch. As he moves on with his day, he sees a beautiful young woman (Virginia Cherrill) selling flowers and while he doesn’t have much money, he decides to spend a little so he can meet her. He approaches and discovers she is blind, so she takes the coin from his hand with great thanks, then hears a car drive off and assumes it was the tramp that was inside. Later on, as he passes a bridge, the tramp sees a desperate man trying to take his own life, so he intervenes. As it turns out, the man is quite rich and he is grateful, not to mention drunk. The two have a wild night, but the tramp keeps thinking back on the beautiful flower girl…

Entertainment Value: I would rank this as the greatest movie ever made, an absolute magical experience that has heart, humor, and incredible craftsmanship, all with Charlie Chaplin in his iconic tramp role. The movie was a massive risk for Chaplin, as talking pictures had become the standard by this point, but the silent City Lights was a smash hit with critics and audiences. The tone is mostly comedic, with some simple, but hilarious set-ups such as near misses, pratfalls, and sight gags, as well as more elaborate and intricate set pieces, like the party scenes or boxing match. The boxing sequence is one of my favorite scenes ever, as it is so involved and intricate, but never fails to entertain and shows how Chaplin’s perfectionist side could yield dividends. I would easily rate City Lights as one of the funniest movies ever as well, as it is consistently brilliant and has some scenes that are simply masterful. At the same time, the movie also has a lot of heart and when the emotional beats arrived, they are earned and well handled, especially the timeless finale. This is because the movie is able to make you invest in these characters, especially the tramp and this is done through organic development, not heavy handed exposition.

I think of the narrative as deceptively simple, as the basic core is quite simple, but that doesn’t account for the personalities involved. The tramp wants to help the flower girl, but it is more about the tramp himself and the others he encounters, rather than just the quest involved. A narrative focus is fine and works in many movies, but here things are driven by the characters, the tramp in particular. The tramp shows immense heart and it all feels authentic, which is what drives City Lights. Of course, with one of cinema’s most acclaimed legends in the lead role and in the director’s chair, it should be no surprise the movie turned out so well. I think most consider this to be his finest work, but Chaplin has a resume filled with top notch shorts and features. Here he is able to convey so much with an expression or a gesture, proving that even during the rise of the talking pictures, the little tramp could still hold his own. I also love Hank Mann as the hard nosed boxer and Virginia Cherrill as the flower girl, but Harry Myers is simply hilarious as the rich man who befriends the tramp, or at least comes close. City Lights is a triumph of cinema and easily one of the greatest movies ever made.

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