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Classic of the Week: City Lights (1931)


City Lights is a 1931 American pre-code silent romantic comedy, written, produced and directed by Charlie Chaplin. The film is about the catastrophes of Chaplin’s Tramp, as he falls in love with a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) and develops a disastrous relationship with an alcoholic millionaire (Harry Myers).

The Tramp meets a beautiful girl selling flowers in the street and instantly becomes smitten. After buying some, he realizes she is blind. Through hearing, she mistakes him for the rich owner of a chauffeured automobile.

That evening the Tramp saves a drunken millionaire from suicide. The millionaire takes his new best friend back to his mansion for champagne. Afterwards he takes him for a night on the town. After helping the millionaire home the next morning, he spots the flower girl on her way to her street corner. He gets money from the millionaire and catches up to the girl, buys all her flowers and drives her home in millionaire’s car.

After the Tramp leaves, the flower girl tells her grandmother about the nice, rich friend. Meanwhile, the Tramp goes back to the mansion, to find the millionaire sober, but he doesn’t remember him and throws him out. Later that day the millionaire is drunk again. He sees the Tramp and invites him to a fancy party. But the next morning, everything starts over: the millionaire again is sober and Tramp is thrown out once more.

After finding the girl not at her normal street corner, the Tramp goes to her apartment, where he overhears a doctor tell the grandmother that the girl is very sick. Motivated to help, the Tramp takes a job as a street sweeper.

The Tramp does many kind things for the girl: brings her groceries, helps feed and walk her dog, reads to her, etc. He reads an article in a newspaper about a Viennese doctor’s blindness cure and the Tramp thinks about what might happen if the girl gained her sight and realize that he is not the rich man she thinks he is. He also finds an eviction notice the girl’s grandmother has hidden. Leaving, he promises the girl that he will pay the rent.

The Tramp, after being fired for being late too often, has to find a job quickly. He goes from job to job to try to get the money for the girl’s rent and blindness cure. Meanwhile, he helps her out in his spare time.

This film is clever, funny, heartwarming and sweet. You can tell Chaplin’s character truly cares about and loves the girl. When he sees her, he instantly lights up and starts smiling. He falls in love with her, despite the fact she is blind and poor. Also, the way he helps the suicidal, alcoholic millionaire is so kind as well. It shows how selfless and caring he is towards others. He has a big heart, that shines throughout this film.

This film’s story is simple, easy too follow and understand and has no dialogue and doesn’t need it. Chaplin knew how to combine humor, tragedy and love in such simple, yet genius and wonderful ways. This movie is one that will be loved more and more every time you watch it. It will make laugh, make you angry, but in the end, it will bring you tears of joy.

It is hard to believe that a man that was told he was too handsome for comedy, could create one of the most iconic and beloved characters of all time.

Younger children, will not understand some things in this movie, like the millionaire attempting suicide, his alcohol abuse and the girl’s disease. But older children most likely will understand it or understand when they are explained to them. This is a wonderful film, that never ceases to make me smile or brighten my day or night. It gives me a warm feeling. It teaches to put others first, to help those in need and that when you love someone, you love them inspire of their flaws. Beautiful film from beginning to end. 8 & up 5/5

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