City Lights (1931)

The Tramp wins the affections of a blind flower seller (Virginia Cherrill) in this hilarious but heartbreaking comedy – one of Charlie Chaplin’s uncontested masterpieces.

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“City Lights comes the closest to representing all the different notes of Chaplin’s genius. It contains the slapstick, the pathos, the pantomime, the effortless physical coordination, the melodrama, the bawdiness, the grace.”
Roger Ebert, The Great Movies, 2002

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, 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.

Chaplin brought his iconic Tramp character back for one last escapade in 1936’s Modern Times.

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