Charlie Chaplin directed the silent talkie movie “City Lights”, after working for decades in truly silent movies. The movie was released on 7th March, 1931 at George M Cohan Theater that saw excellent crowd on the initial day of its screening. The genre of the movie can be classified as romance, drama and comedy. Charlie Chaplin has contributed in many departments of the movie as an actor, director, producer, scorer, and screenwriter. The movie was a huge success due to the contribution of many versatile actors like, Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Al Garcia, Harry Myers, Florence Lee, and Hank Mann. In my childhood days, Charlie Chaplin, renowned as “Tramp” introduced me to the world of comedy. His sense of humor and vision for perfection are a few catalytic agents for my love on movies, and the intense influence of his work has my gratitude for his films. I believe his movies are very passionate and heart touching, and in my opinion, most of his movies have the emotional quotient that could ever be made in American cinema. This paper reviews the movie, City Light, the plot, and a few aspects of the film making that made it to the list of best movies to watch.
The opening title declares City Lights to be “a comedy romance in pantomime” . The story revolves around three main characters; the tramp played by Charlie Chaplin, the blind flower seller girl played by Virginia Cherrill, and the eccentric, sober, drunkard millionaire Harry Myers. The tramp is disregarded and mistreated in every mode of his life; however he has a never ending hope that romance and recognition are not far away. The tramp tries to hide himself from the police gaze, and climbs a parked car and meets a flower seller on the other side of the car, and falls in love desperately and completely with her. He buys a flower from her, and later discovers her blindness when she cannot find a fallen flower; and hearing the car door slam she assumes him to be a rich millionaire.
The tramp later bumps into a completely smashed drunkard, who is trying to end his life by drowning, because his wife deserted him. The tramp saves him and explains the importance of life to the drunkard. Impressed by the tramp, he takes the tramp to his luxurious home. It is clearly understood that the drunkard is distressed by the grief of losing his wife, as he attempts suicide multiple times in the movie. Every time the tramp and the millionaire drink together and get high, the drunkard always forgets the tramp in his conscious state. The tramp is more inclined towards love, rather than money, as he wants to help the flower seller restore her vision. In the course of helping her financially he gets himself employed as a street sweeper, just to lose it quickly as he gets late for his job one day. Also, the tramp unwillingly gets into a fake fight to earn some money, which he loses badly.
The tramp happens to meet the millionaire again, who helps him with $1000 after listening to his plight about the flower seller. This transaction is observed by two burglars who hit the millionaire and rob him of the excess money. When the police arrive, the millionaire does not recall the tramp or the money he gave him. The tramp intelligently escapes and gives the money to the blink girl for her eye operation and house rent, and tiptoes away, just to be caught by the police. Upon return from the prison, the tramp is totally broken and wanders in the streets, and recognizes the flower girl, along with some flowers that are flowing in the gutter. He tries to remove those flowers from the gutter, and is helped by the flower girl, who recognizes him by his touch. Through touch the girl recognizes the person who has been her benefactor and friend, whose appearance she must now reconcile with the ideal vision she has formed of him . She is glad and sad at the same time; glad, because she found the person who helped her, and sad because he was not the one who she thought to be.
The coordinated music composed by Chaplin, and organized by Arthur Johnston helps the movement of this comedy. The sound in the opening scene makes the audience hear the arrogant city personalities “speak” through a meek melodic instrument containing of a hollow pipe with a hole in it, a kazoo. Chaplin’s score is prominent as the sound effects does not only balance the movie’s bodily humor, but also puts forward a kind of interpretation on the hollow sound of talking movies. In many scenes the sound notes help more or less for the words, with feeble sound effects. The pause in the action sound notes was well demonstrated when the tramp gulps a whistle, and the whistle when blown calls the taxicabs, dogs and annoys many people. In the final communion of the tramp and the girl, the spoken word and even natural sound have little place compared to that of touch and sight . As multifaceted person he responded to sound films covering social topics that carried over well in his next movies; Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940).
Many of Chaplin’s tramp films report several themes, including City Lights. Some themes that can be seen in City Lights are the common blunders in the sphere of extravagance, the tussle of the disrespected people in America, the ethical supremacy of economically exploited people, and how the advancement and the general public treats poor people with insolence. Another emotional theme is in the climax where, even though the tramp’s character is poor, the girl accepts him, and does not treat him otherwise, than if he were a millionaire. In my opinion the moral or messages in City Lights are generosity, self-sacrifice, liberality and grace, and life is a combination of happiness and sadness. I believe City Lights is a beautiful romantic
comedy movie about loving someone without being worried about their social or financial status.
Chaplin has artistically and technically made a makeshift movie that can be depicted in this great piece of work. The production records of Charlie Chaplin have been magnificent, and City Lights offers a watchful antiquity of the film’s production and audience reception, with a prioritization on all the scenes in the movie, with extra prominence to the bases of the concluding scene’s expressive command. I would recommend this movie as a “must watch” because of the extra ordinary powerful and tear-jerking ending, and also because it is the utmost arrangement of cinema art, which is perfect at all levels, and meets the expectations of Chaplin and his audience.
Rollins, Peter C. Hollywood as Historian: American Film in a Cultural Context. revised. University Press of Kentucky, 1998. Print.