By 1931 talkies were the industry norm, but Chaplin was autonomous enough to be able to make City Lights silent, preferring the purity of mute pantomime for the antics of his iconic Tramp character. Despite this anachronism, the result was a huge success with audiences, who responded to the film’s exquisitely poised balancing act between humour and pathos.
Earnestly sentimental in its story of the downtrodden Tramp being mistaken for a wealthy benefactor by a blind and impoverished flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), the film nonetheless yields some of Chaplin’s most ingenious comic set-pieces, including a classic sequence in which the Tramp becomes an unwilling contestant in the boxing ring. The closing shot, after it dawns on the girl who her sponsor really was, counts among the cinema’s most moving.
“The balance between humour and drama that’s so effective in [Charlie] Chaplin’s work has its roots not just in his undoubted talent but in the real sympathy he felt for characters on the fringes of society. He saw rich dramaturgical material in the dreams, love, disappointments and pains of such people, but he never lost sight of the humanity and complexity of a stratum of society often defined in fiction more by its financial conditions than by its wellsprings of individuality and sensitivity. City Lights is, in those respects, the best example of his best traits.” Pablo Villaça
“One of the most beautiful films about seeing (and being seen).” Miquel Escudero Diéguez
“Chaplin’s romcom embodies all the magic and power of cinema; it’s both awe-inducing and ‘aww’-inducing. The emotional drive of the narrative and the creativity of its slapstick continue to inspire filmmakers.” Courtney Howard