City Lights (USA, 1931)

327226-citylights8Directed by: Charlie Chaplin. This one is considered his masterpiece, but I can’t comment on that because I really don’t know much about Chaplin. I can see why this one swept the Oscars and received unanimous critical acclaim for decades—it offers that same overflowing feel-good warmth that Murnau’s Sunrise offers, and it provides a template for Oscar bait to the present day in the way it balances all that sweet nice stuff with a tinge of “real life”, sad stuff, poverty, etc. Without knowing an awful lot about early Hollywood, it’s possible that this was the first big Hollywood movie to do this kind of thing, to give people something so satisfying and emotionally direct (it’s 1931 remember), and to do it in a pretty mature way, like a fairy tale for adults. Heck, 50 years later, Spielberg would be doing this kind of thing on a regular basis, but maybe it was totally new and crazy. (I don’t know much but, again, Murnau’s Sunrise was 1927 and it was pretty dark and weird, and excruciatingly sweet and positive and sentimental too, so maybe this is an American take on that whole thing? Or maybe it was actually quite common but City Lights was the most mainstream, successful iteration of it, and subsequently became the template.) The supporting actors were fantastic—that old rich guy with the dual personality (Harry Myers) is priceless, and apparently was brought in last minute. The blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) was also great, really she was the rock that the whole film rested on, and that scene at the end where she has her sight back, and the exchange where she realizes who Chaplin is, that whole thing is so well done, it’s no wonder people flipped their lids over it. In addition to all of this, I was struck by just how funny I found everything going on in this movie, from the opening statue gag onward. His mannerisms are still quite funny, those wordless gags are so simple and universal that they still reach me in the second decade of the 21st century. I knew that people thought Chaplin was funny, but I was really quite surprised that his humour was able to elicit belly laughs from me still. I’m still more of a “joke” fan (Marx Brothers, etc), but I had such a good time with this one, I’ll definitely try to check out his major works ASAP.

One response to “City Lights (USA, 1931)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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