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If there is one Charlie Chaplin film to recommend, as others have
pointed to in the past, City Lights is the one. Though Chaplin played
his Tramp character superbly in other movies, like Modern Times and The
Gold Rush, City Lights displays the Tramp at his funniest, his bravest,
his most romantic, and his most sympathetic. It's tough for filmmakers
in recent days to bring the audience so close emotionally with the
characters, but it's pulled off.
The film centers on three characters- the Tramp, the quintessential, funny homeless man who blends into the crowd, but gets caught in predicaments. He helps a drunken businessman (Myers, a fine performance in his own right) from suicide, and becomes his on and off again friend (that is, when it suits him and doesn't notice his 'friend's' state). The other person in the Tramp's life is the Blind Flower Girl (Virginia Cherrill, one of the most absorbing, beautiful, and key female performances in silent film), who are quite fond of each other despite the lack of total perception. The emotional centerpiece comes in obtaining rent and eye surgery money, which leads to a (how else can I put it) magical boxing match where it's basically a 180 from the brutality and viscerality of a match in say Raging Bull.
Though there is no dialog, the film achieves a timelessness- it's essentially a tale of two loners who find each other, lose each other, and find each other again (the last scene, widely discussed by critics for decades, is moving if not tear-inducing). And it's never, ever boring- once you get along with the Tramp, you find the little things about him, the reaction shots, the little things he does after the usual big gag (look to the ballroom scene for examples of this, or when he gets a bottle of wine poured down his pants without the other guy noticing). Truth be told, if this film makes you indifferent, never watch Chaplin again. But if you give yourself to the film, you may find it's one of the most charming from the era, or perhaps any era.
Chaplin takes himself a little more seriously in City Lights, and the
results are spectacular. The musical score which Chaplin composed for the
film was one of the many highlights, and even though Charlie's performance
is much more dramatic than usual in some scenes, the hilarious comedy for
which he is known and loved is still abundant.
City Lights is so well made that it is one of the very few movies in which the obvious flaws can be gladly overlooked. Yes, you can clearly see the string holding Chaplin up in the sidesplittingly funny boxing scene, but who cares? That is such classic slapstick that little things like that really don't matter. Besides, let's keep in mind that this movie was made seventy years ago.
Chaplin does a phenomenal job in his traditional role of the tramp, and develops a perfectly convincing romantic relationship with the blind flower girl on the sidewalk. His friendship with the drunken rich guy is hilarious, but it also makes a significant comment about the problems of alcohol. This is truly a great film, which should not be forgotten.
Once again Chaplin plays his famous creation, the beloved Tramp
noble Little Fellow meets and falls in love with a blind flower girl
She assumes he is wealthy man and offers him a flower, which he
attentively accepts with his last penny
One night by chance he rescues a drunken millionaire from drowning The rich gentleman becomes a generous friend when drunk but doesn't recognize the tramp when sober Chaplin takes the blind girl under his wing, and takes flight with the millionaire's money to cure her blindness
"City Lights" engaged a true genius in a graceful and touching performance which arouses profound feelings and joy with great simplicity of style and tragic tale Each scene was the result of hard-working detail and planning
Let me join the consensus and call Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights" a
masterpiece. It's only 81 minutes long, but they are among the best 81
minutes you could spend at the movies, and the last five minutes are
simply exquisite. Keep your Kleenex box at arm's length as I doubt if
there has been a more honestly heartbreaking scene captured on film.
When the formerly blind girl gives the Little Tramp a flower and
ultimately says "Yes, I can see now", the scene takes on such emotional
gravity as to defy explanation.
Chaplin was at his zenith in 1928 when he started a journey of more than two years to develop and film this story, and the Little Tramp had already been a familiar character to audiences for over a decade. He had already made the classics "The Gold Rush" (1925) and "The Circus" (1928) starring his character, so it's obvious he felt a need to take a slightly different direction and deepen the character this time. The advent of talkies didn't stop Chaplin from making this "Comedy Romance in Pantomime" (as he subtitled it), as he knew giving the Little Tramp a voice would limit his appeal as a universal character. What I particularly enjoyed in this film is how the Little Tramp fancies himself as a well-mannered gentleman in spite of all the circumstances that bring him down, even going to prison for love. It is this self-delusion and his subsequent mistaken identity as a millionaire that leads him to the blind flower girl, played in an effectively plaintive manner by Virginia Cherrill. Her performance is a greatly underrated element in this film, as she displays the right amount of vacant innocence to make the last minutes so memorable. Simply compare her to the screen test shown of Georgia Hale, Chaplin's leading lady in "The Gold Rush" and an obviously more experienced actress than Cherrill, as Hale struggles to show the right balance between condescension and beatific revelation when she realizes the Little Tramp is the "wealthy" gentleman who paid for the restoration of her sight.
Of course, this would not be a Chaplin film without the brilliance of his comedy routines and there is a treasure trove of classic scenes - the rising and lowering of the street elevator, the shifting musical chairs scene at the nightclub, the mock suicide at the canal and especially the boxing scene, which has been imitated by so many lesser filmmakers (and was according to the footage included as a DVD extra, inspired by an earlier Chaplin short "The Champion" from 1915). Even a simple moment, for example, when the Little Tramp mistakes a piece of thread from his vest for a ball of twine, is impressive for the sheer delicacy of the moment. And special mention needs to go to Chaplin's musical score, where he beautifully interweaves José Padilla's "La Violetta" as his love theme.
The transfer to DVD is very good, and the 2-DVD set has plenty of extras though they vary in quality. The Serge Bromberg documentary provides an informative supplement to the film, and the footage of Chaplin from a Vienna press tour is fascinating since it captures the long-forgotten worldwide frenzy he created back then. The aforementioned Georgia Hale screen test is a worthwhile addition but runs on a bit too long. The 10-minute home movie of Chaplin's trip to Bali has a certain anthropological interest but seems rather pointless otherwise. Regardless, the movie itself is rewarding enough and an exquisite jewel that completely justifies Chaplin's reputation as one of the world's leading filmmakers.
This is my favorite Chaplin film, but I don't want that to diminish his
other work, either. MODERN TIMES was an outstanding work of social
satire, THE GOLD RUSH was great slapstick, and even the
largely-neglected MONSIEUR VERDOUX strikes a certain unforgettable
tone. Chaplin didn't make a bad movie, and I'm not even sure that CL is
his best, exactly. But it IS my favorite, if only for the ending.
That ending has been the subject of much comment here. I think it's a masterpiece in a single scene. Chaplin's little tramp has never seemed less like a character and more like a living, breathing human being. It's a monument to understated sentimentality.
To me, the rest of the film exists largely to set the context for that one magnificent piece of celluloid. Yes, the boxing scene is great, and the scene where he rescues the millionaire is also wonderful, but it's that ending that makes us all love this movie.
CITY LIGHTS (United Artists, 1931), written, directed and starring
Charlie Chaplin (1889- l977), is a silent comedy-drama released at the
height of the sound era. Distributing a movie in the silent film
tradition at the time when silents were considered a fad, Chaplin
gambled with this production, and made it pay off. Although Chaplin
hails THE GOLD RUSH (1925) as the one movie he would most want to be
remembered, CITY LIGHTS nearly dims out his GOLD RUSH and at the same
time, practically places his other silent masterpiece, THE CIRCUS
(1928) to oblivion. CITY LIGHTS has stood the test of time, balancing
perfectly a mixture of comedy and drama, but in Chaplin's case, pathos.
Subtitled, "A comedy romance in pantomime," the story opens in the early morning where the mayor is dedicating a statue to the citizens of the city. After the unveiling, the crowd finds a little tramp (Charlie Chaplin) sleeping on the lap of one of the figures. As he tries to climb down, he encounters one problem after another. This opening scene alone is priceless. With such a great beginning, Chaplin adds in more comedic insertions blended into the plot. The theme to CITY LIGHTS is remembered mainly about a tramp's love for a blind girl. However, there is a subplot, involving the tramp's involvement with a millionaire drunk, which, by far, takes up more time than the sentimental love story. These two segments actually set the pattern. First segment, set in the afternoon, finds Charlie walking down the street, examining a nude statue in a shop, being annoyed by some newsboys making fun of his tattered clothing. He encounters a beautiful blonde girl (Virginia Cherrill) selling flowers. After she drops one of her flowers, Charlie notices her feeling about the sidewalk for it, thus, realizing she's blind. Smitten by her beauty, he picks it up and pays her for it. Minutes later, the slamming of a limousine door is heard, with the girl believing the kind gentleman, Charlie, to be a millionaire. Second segment, set at night, finds Charlie encountering a drunk (Harry Myers) trying to commit suicide by drowning himself. Just as Charlie is about to save him, he in turn falls into the river. The drunk, in gratitude for saving his life, takes Charlie under his wing to accompany him to various night clubs until dawn. By morning, the millionaire, now sober, fails to recognize or remember Charlie and orders orders his butler to escort this stranger out of his mansion. This running gag that's repeated in the story might play itself as repetitious, but Chaplin manages to breathe new life and funnier routines through his encounters with the drunk and their all night binges. By day, Charlie looks after the blind girl and worries when she's not at her usual corner selling flowers. Finding that she's ill and being cared by her grandmother (Florence Lee), whose behind with her rent and threatened with eviction, Charlie offers to help by obtaining and losing various jobs, ranging from street-cleaning to fighting in a boxing match. Reading in a newspaper of a European doctor who restores sight for the blind, Charlie gives the girl $1,000 for an operation, the money offered to him by the drunken millionaire, who, after sober, accuses Charlie of robbing him, has his arrested and serving jail time. The climatic finish is truly the best thing Chaplin has ever done and certainly one not to be missed.
Featured in the supporting cast are Henry Bergman, Allan Garcia, Albert Austin, and Hank Mann. While much has been discussed about Chaplin's performance, his co-star, Virginia Cherrill, as the blind girl (no name given), should not go without mention. Even though her future film career consisted of forgettable programmers, and at one time being one of the future wives of film actor, Cary Grant, her performance is excellent by all means. Although it's been said that future film star Jean Harlow (1911-1937) appears as an unbilled extra in the night club sequence, she is visible in a surviving still photograph, but no such scene appears in the finished product.
Unlike THE GOLD RUSH, CITY LIGHTS had limited showings in revival houses in later years, and was never allowed to be distributed to television. Being first introduced to CITY LIGHTS at New York City's revival movie house, The Regency Theater, formerly located on Broadway and 67th Street, in 1979, the memorable thing about this event are the roars of laughter from its theater packed audience. There was one man, probably a big fan reliving his childhood memories, whose laughter almost drowned out the underscoring of the film. No doubt he was having more fun watching this movie than anyone else. Watching CITY LIGHTS surrounded by an appreciative audience theater is one way to truly appreciate and experience the feel of silent film comedy, and to think back as to how the audience reacted in same back in 1931.
After Chaplin's death in December of 1977, CITY LIGHTS, along with his other silent features, were not only resurrected for a new generation to endure, but became readily available on video cassette at the time of Chaplin's 100th birthday, 1989. In later years, CITY LIGHTS was frequently revived on various cable channels, ranging from Turner Network Television (TNT) in the early 1990s, American Movie Classics up to 2001, and finally Turner Classic Movies. The complete musical soundtrack that accompanies CITY LIGHTS happens to be the original score composed to perfection by Chaplin himself.
Much has been written and said about CITY LIGHTS over the years. To learn more about the making, difficulties and long term preparations to CITY LIGHTS, either watch Kevin Blownlow's 1980 documentary, Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film, as narrated by James Mason, or Brownlow's other documentaries dedicated entirely to Chaplin's career, including outtakes to CITY LIGHTS as well as scenes involving Virginia Cherrill's temporary replacement, Georgia Hale, Chaplin's co-star in THE GOLD RUSH. (****)
City Lights is simply put one of the best movies out there. Every scene
is classic and had a huge impact on the history of film-making.
Chaplin's last 'silent' film tells the story of a poor little man the
tramp played by Chaplin who falls in love with a blind flower girl. He
becomes friends with a wealthy man who constantly tries to commit
suicide. The man only recognizes the tramp character when he is drunk.
To impress the flower girl the tramp uses the man's wealth to make her
fall in love with him. The only problem is that when the man is sober
he doesn't recognize the tramp anymore. On top of this the flower girl
has to pay 22 dollars of rent or she will be thrown out of her
apartment. Now the tramp desperately seeks for jobs in the city to help
his love. Out of this simple plot great comedy and heart breaking
moments come forth.
The outcome of the movie is to almost all people known. It is regarded as one of the best endings ever taped on film. The movie itself still is masterpiece more than 70 years after it's release. I personally rate this as Chaplin's second best I have seen so far. My favorite remains The Gold Rush. Still this movie gets 5/5 stars from me.
I always thought this was one of Charlie Chaplin's nicest, most
under-appreciated silent movie gems. Then I discovered it really wasn't
underrated; it's rated very high on most critics' lists. It may be that
I usually hear about some of his other movies than I do this one.
Part of the reason I think so highly of this is simply that I'm a sentimentalist and story in this film is a very touching one. It's a romance between Charlie's tramp character (no name) and a blind girl, who also had no name in this film. Virginia Cherill, who played the blind woman and had a wholesome, pretty face which I found very attractive.
I'm not always a huge fan of pantomime except for some great comedians of the era like Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, but Chaplin was so good at it and this is one of the last of dying breed as "talkies" were out in full force by 1931. Chaplin was at his best in silent movies, anyway, and his comedy routines are legendary. He gave me a lot of laughs in this film, as always, and I particularly laughed (I love slapstick) at the boxing scene. Kudos, too, to Harry Myers as the "eccentric millionaire."
There's a lot of drama as well as humor in this 86-minute gem as the Tramp tries to aid a blind girl, raising money so she can get an operation to restore her sight.
Comedy, romance, drama (with suffering) all combine to make this an extraordinary piece of entertainment. It's hard to believe this movie was not up for one, single Academy Award.
Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights" contains a blend of humor and humanity that
make it memorable for everyone who watches it. Although made very much in
the old-fashioned silent film tradition, much of it is timeless,
After a few minutes of slapstick at the beginning, Charlie's "little tramp" character makes two acquaintances. He meets a blind girl selling flowers, who mistakes him for a rich man, and the two become very fond of each other. Then he meets a real millionaire, who is drunk, depressed, and about to commit suicide. In a comic scene, the tramp persuades the millionaire not to go through with it, making himself a devoted friend.
The tramp soon learns that there is an operation that could give the girl her sight, and tries to think of some way he could help. His scenes with the girl and her grandmother are moving, while his determination to help lead him into some comic escapades - his attempt to win money in a boxing match being particularly funny, and one of Chaplin's best comic pieces. Meanwhile, when his millionaire friend is drunk, he dotes on the tramp, but when sober he forgets who the tramp is, leading to more amusing scenes and occasional trouble for Charlie.
All of the comedy leads up to a finale that is one of the best-remembered scenes in any film. "City Lights" shows the power of the camera in the hands of a master, who without words can move his audience or make them laugh. Anyone who appreciates good cinema should see it at least once.
Film has become a medium that is strongly influenced by nostalgia. Old
films have become journeys to the past; ways to visit times and people
no longer are. Since film is an art that is based on the innovation of
previous works, it has an element of nostalgia in its foundation. We look
on the old to find what elements should make up the new. In City Lights,
and other silent works of film, a passion emerges that is uniquely honest
and sincere. While watching the film, I was impressed that Chaplin really
did love the story, the sets, the crew; the whole project. While this may
not have been the complete reality, it felt that way, and thus made the
more enjoyable. In silent films the audience is forced to be completely
reliable on the visual elements of the film; there are no elaborate sound
effects or dialogue to provoke an emotional response.
Since film is at its very core a visual medium, I find silent films to be the basic form of the medium. I don't use the word basic here in a demeaning sense, but I compare the beauty of silent films to the beauty of early European art, before the concept of perspective was developed in the Renaissance. Many books and tomes featured people as tall as the castles they stood in; these works of art were not technologically advanced, but they were, and are, beautiful. The same example is found when comparing early darreographs of wild animals to contemporary photographs found in National Geographic. There is a warmth found in City Lights, and other Chaplin films (The Kid, Modern Times) that would be lost in the sea of cinematic technology that floods films today. Maybe it's just that with simplicity comes honesty, and honesty is perhaps the most powerful emotion that can cross through the screen and be felt by the viewer.
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