The 1930s was the decade that sound was able to slowly creep its way into the big screen but there was one memorable filmmaker who refused to give in to sound- Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin always felt like sound films would be a fad that would go away like eight track tapes. Sure, he bended to what the audience wanted by incorporating sound effects but this next film stuck with Chaplin’s silent cinema roots that was considered a personal favorite to Chaplin himself, Orson Welles, and even Albert Einstein (he choked up at the end)! City Lights is about the return of The Tramp as he meets a beautiful blind woman and decides to find ways to help her out of poverty.
We get to see the entertaining comedy stylings of The Tramp as he attempts to make a living to get the love of his life eye surgery to fix her eyesight whether he’s a street sweeper or a staged boxer. Like slapstick genius Buster Keaton, Chaplin’s character is an unlikely hero. That looking at him, he doesn’t have a strong build or a macho persona but he has a beating heart full of love that gets him past those obstacles. None of the characters such as his blind love interest or the millionaire he saves from attempting suicide can see him for the hero he is but audiences sure can. I love The Tramp’s introduction when just as a newly built statue is unveiled reveals The Tramp asleep on it!
The Tramp is always a delight to see for his pantomime, his clumsy yet humorous maneuvers, and for showing that joy on his face that we all feel when we see him. Since Chaplin’s studio made City Lights, he had control over everything. Director, actor, screenwriter, producer, executive producer, score music, you name it! Write in how long you think it took for Charlie Chaplin to complete this film and the budget. While it may look as if Chaplin was smitten with The Blind Girl on screen, that wasn’t the case in real life as Chaplin fired her for being late but then had to bring her back considering how far along the film was coming along. She threw back at him an ultimatum- double my salary or I’m out! Write in if you think that was fair.
Charlie Chaplin was a perfectionist with every scene perfectly planned and taking hundreds of takes to make it right. Especially that final shot of The Tramp seeing The Blind Girl- a look of slight embarrassment for revealing himself but also happiness to be able to see her. Talkies may have overshadowed City Lights at the Oscars but it was a financial success as well as a cinematic success that Charlie Chaplin had every right to be proud of.
Watch one of the greatest Charlie Chaplin films and write in your responses. You can also find a copy on Hulu: