City Lights (1931)
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherill, Florence Lee and Harry Myers
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Released by: United Artists
Synopsis: The Little Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) returns in this heartwarming silent romantic comedy from an era invaded by "talkies". Here, he meets a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherill) and falls in love in her. He then embarks on a hilarious journey, all in the name of love. He also realizes that the girl may be blind, but that she is able to see one important thing: the kindness in his heart.
Review: A fun fact. By the time the film was released in 1931, silent films were going the way of the dodo, and "talkies" were all the rage in Hollywood. Knowing this, Charlie Chaplin was worried but still pushed forward with this production. Despite the sound revolution movies like "The Jazz Singer" created, City Lights was an enormous success And even today with the promise of realistic computer generated characters and 3D screens the film still remains relevant thanks to the greatest film invention of all time: heartfelt acting.
Even though no words are uttered in this picture it speaks the loudest when it comes to the virtues of human kindness and empathy. Charlie Chaplin delivers a lot of emotions in just a few simple and subtle facial expressions. From happiness and sadness to frustration and fear, he holds no punches. Chaplin was a master when it came to his craft. His comedic timing in this film is impeccable. Whether the scene calls for a grand gag or a simple joke, Chaplin delivers, no questions asked.
He was also a very capable director. This is more than evidenced in the performances of the supporting cast. Virginia Cherill evokes a lot of love and patience in her role of the blind girl, and has great chemistry with the little tramp. Harry Myers' eccentric millionaire delivers the most laughs in the whole film, thanks to an on and off friendship with the Little Tramp caused by alcohol abuse.
The plot is a very simple one: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl and vows to make her happy no matter what. But this simple premise is one vital in expressing the importance of our ability to befriend, love and feel compassion towards others. It wouldn't have been as effective if the plot was long and convoluted. Sometimes simple is just good enough.
Despite its achievements, though, the film has some issues. The storyline is very episodic, with the Little Tramp getting into one predicament, then the other. This makes the film more like several short subjects tied together to tell one cohesive storyline, and at times the connection isn't that smooth. Luckily, the talents of the actors do the story justice, and even if it feels episodic it's very enjoyable to watch.
Unfortunately, I believe that modern audiences will not be kind to the film. We have grown so accustomed to hearing the actors talk that even a minute of silence is too much to bear. So to my dear readers, if you appreciate classic films then you should invest in the classic silent films, especially when they are as good as City Lights. It's a great piece of history, of how one man was determined to keep his craft alive as much as possible in the face of adversity.
Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5