87 Min. | Comedy – Drama – Romance | March 1931
IMDB Rating: 8.6
Director: Charles Chaplin
Staring: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee
City Lights Review: Chaplin was a unique presence in the history of the early cinema. Coming up through the ranks, he gradually achieved a god-like stature, being awarded total control of every facet of the production. Not only was he often the sole person who knew what the end product was to be (as in “The Kid”) but he was also allowed to elaborately improvise in the creative process. This often meant doing countless scores of retakes over days, weeks and even months, holding up the cast and crew for days while he brooded over just what to do next, and even (in the case of “The Gold Rush”) cancelling expensive weeks of location shooting and returning to the studio to start all over again.
As if to snub the talkie, City Lights is a remarkable achievement in complex visual narrative, even only occasionally relying upon title cards and then often only as an embellishment to the more comedy-driven moments. Most plot points and character traits are implied rather than stated, which gives the picture a continual smoothness – another thing that would have gone down well with audiences glad to see the back of the intrusive title card. Out of necessity Chaplin’s technical approach is more overt than his usual. He often cuts to a close-up to give us a necessary reaction, and there are even some whip-pans in the scene where he and the flower girl first meet, but all of this is in keeping with the rhythm and tone of the picture. Those whip pans after all reflect an abrupt emotional moment, and are in no way a blatant or showy manoeuvre.
Now that all the frustration, anger, and outrage associated with the behind-the-scenes unfoldment of this highly troubled production are well in the past, what remains is a genuinely moving film classic. Sometimes great enterprises require considerable hardship to forge them into being. The greater the achievement, often the greater the challenge and period of endurance. Whatever the case, we are the appreciative recipients of this masterwork, which takes its place besides “Modern Times” and “The Gold Rush” as one of Chaplin’s consummate expressions. Overall, City Lights is an excellent film.
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