Archive Review: City Lights (1931) – 4.5/5 Stars

Wish that today’s romantic comedies full of superficial blabber and polluted ideas about love and sex would just — shut up? Hold on to your ten dollars and rent the Charlie Chaplin classic “City Lights,” a heart-warming romance and physical comedy — where no one talks.

It seems like the era and even the idea of the silent love story has been long gone and forgotten. Relationships and courtship are full of drama, selfish sexual desire and prejudices and attitudes about what’s attractive. In a modern context, “City Lights” can be viewed as an hour and a half trip back to innocence.

The already famous Chaplin returns to the screen in “Lights,” his first silent film in the dawn of the “talkie” era. Chaplin once again plays the Tramp, this time befriending a suicidal drunken rich man and taking a fancy to a blind flower salesgirl. As a social commentary, Chaplin picks on the snootiness of the upper class and their fancy parties that only mask their unhappiness, as well as championing those who are not as wealthy but don’t create social prejudice. But “Lights” is a love story at heart.

Maybe it’s only because he knows she won’t judge him by his appearance that the Tramp is immediately infatuated with the blind flower seller, but his unblinking kindness toward her is just heart-warming. As he tries to find the money to pay for her rent, (leading to some hysterical scenes, namely a boxing fight) you know deep down that he’ll never fully be repaid for his kind deeds. That is until the classic ending that could win even the coldest of fish over with its simple but perfect execution.

There’s plenty opportunity here for us to laugh at the Tramp too, but it’s just not what you take away most from “City Lights.’ You can name the classic comedy scenes without problem, but the impression does not follow them. It’s the beautiful story of two seemingly nobodies who treat each other with unconditional kindness amidst a city of superficial and judgmental people that makes you stop and wonder. The fact that in all honesty we still search for that ideal today despite an even greater setting promoting the opposite, and that’s what makes “City Lights” a classic.

4.5/5 Stars

Directed and Written by: Charles Chaplin
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill


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