Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Running Time: 87 mins
City Lights is an American film following The Tramp as he befriends an eccentric millionaire, and sets about finding a way to pay for a blind woman with whom he has fallen in love to cure her.
This is regularly hailed as Chaplin’s greatest film of all, but for me, it’s not quite on par with Modern Times. It’s without a doubt an impressive and worthy classic of cinema, with some brilliantly innovative comedy throughout that’s still just as funny today, as well as a sweet and heartwarming story that anyone can fall in love with, but I just felt it was lacking a certain depth that, comparably, was at the centre of Modern Times.
However, without wishing to make too many comparisons, I did really enjoy City Lights. Above all, it’s Charlie Chaplin’s iconic and faultless performance as The Tramp that makes it such a fun watch. Still stuck in the silent era three years after sound had exploded onto Hollywood screens, it’s a real marvel that Chaplin was able to make such a confident and hilarious film in what was a dying breed of film.
But that’s exactly what he does. Whenever he’s on screen, either falling over, doing his silly walk, or sweetly trying to do all he can for the woman he loves, Charlie Chaplin is excellent. He brings a wonderful humanity to The Tramp throughout, something that really helps to make the story a lot more engaging than I initially expected, but above all, he’s really funny.
I may not have been laughing quite as much as Modern Times, but there are still some hugely funny set pieces throughout City Lights. Although not all perfect, I was laughing on a very consistent basis at slapstick that just doesn’t get made nowadays, for fear of being stupid, but Chaplin’s ability to pull such silliness off time and time again is testament to his brilliance in this film.
What’s more is that the film brings a very heartfelt story to the table alongside its manic comedy. Again, it’s not always quite as emotional and powerful as Modern Times (given that it doesn’t have quite the same depth with regards to a wider message), but The Tramp’s unending determination to do whatever it takes to cure the woman he loves is undeniably sweet and heartwarming, whilst the film also impresses in two scenes with staggering emotional power, even if the rest of the film doesn’t quite match that.
Overall, City Lights is an excellent film. In my view, it’s not Chaplin’s best, simply because it’s a little too simple and thin at times, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an enjoyable and pleasant watch. Chaplin is as hilarious as ever as The Tramp, and the film’s romance is absolutely wonderful to witness throughout, so that’s why City Lights gets a 7.9 from me.