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City Lights (1931) Poster

(1931)

Trivia

Production was delayed on several occasions. In 1929, one break lasted 62 days.
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Charles Chaplin's personal favorite of all his films.
When the film opened on 31 January 1931, Albert Einstein joined Charles Chaplin at the theater. When the film opened in England, George Bernard Shaw joined him.
Orson Welles said that this was his favorite movie of all time.
Charles Chaplin re-shot the scene in which the Little Tramp buys a flower from the blind flower-girl 342 times, as he could not find a satisfactory way of showing that the blind flower-girl thought that the mute tramp was wealthy.
Charles Chaplin's first film made during the sound era. He faced extreme pressure to make the film as a talkie, but such was his popularity and power in Hollywood that he was able to complete and release the film as a silent (albeit with recorded music) at a time when the rest of the American motion picture industry had converted to sound.
Charles Chaplin invited Albert Einstein and his wife Elsa to join him at the Los Angeles premier on January 30, 1931. When the house lights came up, Chaplin was surprised to see Einstein's eyes tearing at the final scene. Chaplin said in his autobiography that he had not known Einstein to be so "sentimental."
Winston Churchill visited the set, and Charles Chaplin took a break to make a short film with him.
Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky cited this as his favorite film. Woody Allen also calls it "Chaplin's best picture".
At the beginning of the film, a town official and a woman dedicating the statue can be heard uttering nondescript words by way of a paper reed mouth instrument. The sounds were made by Charles Chaplin and this was the first time that his voice was heard on film.
At one point, Virginia Cherrill came back to the set late from an appointment, keeping Charles Chaplin waiting. Chaplin, whose relationship with Cherrill was not friendly, fired her on the spot. He intended to reshoot the film with Georgia Hale, his heroine from The Gold Rush (1925), playing the flower girl; he even reshot the final scene between the tramp and the flower girl with Hale in the role. However, Chaplin had already spent far too much time and money on the project to start over. Knowing this, Cherrill offered to come back to work - at double her original salary. Chaplin reluctantly agreed and the film was completed. (Source: Virginia Cherrill interview, Unknown Chaplin (1983))
In 2008, this film was voted #1 on AFI's list over the ten best romantic comedies of all time.
Virginia Cherrill was very near-sighted. Chaplin felt that her unfocused gaze suggested blindness.
In terms of years, this film was Charles Chaplin's longest undertaking. It was in production for over three years, from 31 December 1927 to 22 January 1931, although he only shot for 180 days.
The film was inordinately expensive - in excess of $1.5 million - mainly because Charles Chaplin kept his cast and crew on stand-by for 22 months, even though he only actually shot for 179 days.
Stanley Kubrick named it as one of his favourite films.
Though no footage of Georgia Hale appears in the finished film, the reconciliation scene she shot for him in Virginia Cherrill's absence, has survived.
For a subplot, Charles Chaplin first considered a character even lower on the social scale, a black newsboy. The millionaire plot was based on an old idea Chaplin had for a short, where two millionaires pick up the Little Tramp from the city dump and show him a good time in expensive clubs, and then drop him back off at the dump, so when he woke up the Tramp would not know if it was real or a dream. This was rewritten into a millionaire who is a friend of the Tramp when drunk, but does not recognize him when sober.
One of Charles Chaplin's friends, the famous illustrator Ralph Barton, was on set one day during the filming of the scene where Charlie and the blind girl meet. These home movies, which appear in Unknown Chaplin (1983), and is the only known behind the scenes footage of Chaplin at work in costume as the tramp.
The plot gradually grew from an initial concept Charles Chaplin had considered after the success of The Circus (1928), where a circus clown goes blind and has to conceal his handicap from his young daughter by pretending that his inability to see are pratfalls.
Charles Chaplin's penchant for perfection carried over into all aspects of the production. He had a very clear vision as to how every scene should play. Robert Parrish, who had a small part as one of the newsboys who pelt The Tramp with peashooters, remembered in 1991: "Chaplin was a dervish. He would blow a pea from the peashooter, playing both my part and the part of Austen Jewell, the other newsboy. He then would run over and react as the Tramp being hit by it, then back to the newsboys and blow another pea. He would then play Virginia Cherrill's part of the Blind Girl. Then he was the Tramp. Then he would instruct what the background people should be doing. Everyone watched as he acted out all the parts for us. When he felt he had it all worked out, he reluctantly gave us back our parts...I believe he would have much rather played them all himself if he could."
One of Charles Chaplin's most financially successful and critically acclaimed films despite being released well into the sound era.
The famous Flower Girl theme was written by José Padilla.
The film was originally set in Paris.
According to Virginia Cherrill, Charles Chaplin was never interested in her sexually. "I was 20. Charlie liked them younger."
The opening reel and a dream vision of Charles Chaplin handsomely uniformed were deleted.
Charles Chaplin began shooting the film in 1928. Convinced that sound was just a passing fad, he decided to stick with his trademark pantomimic style. However, halfway through production he realized that the talkies weren't going away, so he shut down the film and tried to figure out how to incorporate sound. He was further hindered by the Wall Street Crash.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #11 Greatest Movie of All Time.
Virginia Cherrill was cast on a whim when Charles Chaplin spotted her at a boxing match.
During the premiere, the theater manager, H.L. Gumbiner, was justifiably proud of the gorgeous new state-of-the-art Los Angeles Theatre. Unfortunately, he had terrible timing. To Charles Chaplin's horror, Gumbiner had the film stopped halfway through. "Before continuing further with this wonderful comedy," boomed Gumbiner's voice over a loudspeaker to a bewildered audience, "we would like to take five minutes of your time and point out to you the merits of this beautiful new theater."

Chaplin was livid. "I could not believe my ears," he said. "I went mad. I leaped from my seat and raced up the aisle: 'Where's that stupid son of a bitch of a manager? I'll kill him!'" The audience was on Chaplin's side. They began stomping their feet, calling out, and eventually booing the poorly timed intrusion. Finally getting the message, Gumbiner stopped and the film started back up.
Everyone in this movie has been dead since 2007.
One of Charles Chaplin's most joyous times came during the film's famous boxing match scene. "The filming of the boxing scene was the only social life we had at the studio," recalled Virginia Cherrill. "Charlie must have had over a hundred extras present...and he encouraged his friends in town to come and watch. Everyone loved boxing in Hollywood in those days. And Charlie was so funny in the ring. The boxing scene became sort of a party at the studio. Charlie loved every minute of it."
Since Charles Chaplin owned his own studio, he was able to control every aspect of the production. He could take his time and go at his own pace, spending as much time and money as he saw fit to get things done to his satisfaction. He demanded excellence from everyone working with him, but most of all he demanded it of himself.
Henry Clive was originally cast as the millionaire, but when he refused to fall into the water in a necessary scene, Charles Chaplin fired him and hired Harry Myers. Some sources say that Clive had a cold at the time and asked Chaplin if they could wait until the sun had warmed the water before getting in. Chaplin responded by promptly replacing him with a new actor.
While his demand for perfection could sometimes ruffle feathers, there was no question that Charles Chaplin poured his heart and soul into the pantomime art that he deeply loved. The film's poignant final shot was one that he was particularly proud of, having put a great deal of work into it despite its deceptive simplicity. He felt "a beautiful sensation of not acting, of standing outside myself," he said. "The key was exactly right - slightly embarrassed, delighted about meeting her again - apologetic without getting emotional about it. He was watching and wondering without any effort. It's one of the purest inserts - I call them inserts, close-ups - that I've ever done."
Charles Chaplin had interviewed several actresses to play the blind flower girl, but was unimpressed with them all. While seeing a film shoot with bathing women in a Santa Monica beach, he found a casual acquaintance, Virginia Cherrill. She waved and asked if she would ever get the chance to work with him. After a series of poor auditions from other actresses, Chaplin eventually invited her to do a screen test. She was the first actress to subtly and convincingly act blind on camera due to her near-sightedness
This marked the first time Charles Chaplin composed the film score to one of his productions.
City Lights (1931) was the fourth most popular movie at the U.S. box office for 1931.
Before it was released into theatres, Charles Chaplin had a secret sneak preview screening in downtown Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it was an experience that he described as "ghastly" because "our film was thrown on to the screen to a half-empty house. The audience had come to see a drama and not a comedy, and they did not recover from their bewilderment until halfway through the picture. There were laughs, but feeble ones." Some of the audience members even walked out in the middle of the film, according to Chaplin. "I left the theater with a feeling of two years' work and two million dollars having gone down the drain," he said in his autobiography.
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Charles Chaplin spent $1,500,000 of his own money in making the film. A river was built at Chaplin's studio, which covered an area of five acres and cost $15,000 to construct. Two streets representing a downtown business section were also constructed at a cost of $100,000.
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Psychologist Stephen Weissman has hypothesized that the film is highly autobiographical, with the blind girl representing Charles Chaplin's mother, while the drunken millionaire represents Chaplin's father. Weissman also compared many of the film's sets with locations from Chaplin's real childhood, such as the statue in the opening scene resembling St. Mark's Church on Kennington Park Road and Chaplin referring to the waterfront set as the Thames Embankment.
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The film was given a 4K film transfer for theatrical distribution (Janus Films) and DVD/Blu-ray release (Criterion Collection) in 2013. The Criterion Collection home video release features an optional audio commentary track by Charles Chaplin biographer and archivist Jeffrey Vance.
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A scene where The Tramp attempts to retrieve a stick that was stuck in a wall was filmed, but it was removed at Charles Chaplin's insistence.
Even though he had great confidence in the film, Charles Chaplin still couldn't help but worry that he would be seen as old-fashioned for making a silent picture. Now 40 years old, The Little Tramp, who had been one of the world's top box office stars for over a decade, could feel the public's interest in his career slowly waning, and it bothered him. "In the past my work had usually stimulated interest among producers," he said in his 1964 autobiography. "But now they were too preoccupied with the success of the talkies, and as time went on I began to feel outside of things; I guess I had been spoiled."
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According to his autobiography, Charles Chaplin was angered over United Artists' lack of pre-release publicity and decided to exhibit the picture himself. He spent his own money to rent the George M. Cohan Theater and took out half-page advertisments to publicize the fact.
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Georgia Hale was added to the cast on November 11, 1929, according to studio records.
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To remind sound-oriented audiences of what to expect from the film, Chaplin billed the film as "a comedy romance in pantomime written and directed by Charles Chaplin."
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Virginia Cherrill said that when she renegotiated her contract to be brought back onto the film, she was given advice by Marion Davies.
The favourite film of director Martin Brest.
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The boxing scene required 100 extras and Charles Chaplin took four days to rehearse and six to shoot the scene. Chaplin was initially nervous over the attendance for this scene so he invited his friends to be extras. Over 100 extras were present. Chaplin's performance in the scene was so humorous that more people arrived daily to be an extra.
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Charles Chaplin briefly considered sixteen-year-old actress Marian Marsh for the blind girl, but was talked out of this idea by his collaborators.
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The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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The millionaire's car is a 1926 Rolls Royce.
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The premiere opened the Los Angeles Theater. It was the first time a gala premiere was held in downtown Los Angeles rather than in Hollywood.
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When the film was re-released in 1950, it was banned in Memphis, TN by censor Lloyd T. Benford because of Charles Chaplin's "immoral" character. This judgement resulted from several personal incidents that plagued Chaplin's career.
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The opening scene involved up to 380 extras and was especially stressful for Charles Chaplin to shoot. During this part of shooting, construction was being done at Chaplin Studios because the city of Los Angeles had decided to widen La Brea Avenue and Chaplin was forced to move several buildings away from the road.
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Spoilers 

The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

The first scenes Charles Chaplin thought up were of the ending, where the newly cured blind girl sees the Little Tramp for the first time. A highly detailed description of the scene was written, as Chaplin considered it to be the centre of the entire film.
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See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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