Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill  in "CityLights" (1931).

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City Lights

City Lights is a 1931 film written by, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin composed the musical score which comprised the majority of the sound on the film since there is no dialogue in the picture. more...

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The Circus, released in 1928, was Chaplin's last film to debut before motion pictures with sound (known as "talkies" at the time) took over. Since The Circus, sound pictures quickly took over as the industry standard. It was not uncommon for silent actors to oppose the arrival of talking pictures. Had Chaplin been anybody else, he probably would have never been able to shoot City Lights as a silent film, but because of his power in Hollywood, and because he had almost complete control over his work, he was able to make this film silent (except for a few sparse sound effects, music, and some unintelligble sounds that mock speech).

Charlie Chaplin was a known perfectionist; he was famous for doing many more takes than other directors at the time. At one point he actually fired Virginia Cherrill and began re-filming with Georgia Hale, Chaplin's co-star in The Gold Rush. This proved too expensive, even for his budget, and so he later re-hired Cherrill and was able to finish City Lights.


The plot concerns Chaplin's Tramp, broke and homeless, falling in love with a poor blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) who mistakes him as a millionaire. Since he wants to help her and doesn't want to disappoint her by his wealth, he keeps up the charade. He befriends a drunk millionaire, works small jobs like street sweeping, and enters a boxing contest, all to help her.

The ending, widely acclaimed as one of the cinema's most touching, brings the flower girl, her sight restored, to the sad reality of her kind benefactor. "You?" she says, her romantic dreams crumbling before her in the nervous tramp's appearance, his face a map of shame, pride and devotion.

This ending has been mimicked in Manhattan, Magnolia, and La Dolce Vita.


Several well-known directors have praised City Lights. Orson Welles has been quoted as saying that this is his favorite movie of all time. In 1963, the American magazine Cinema asked Stanley Kubrick what he felt were the top-ten films; he listed City Lights at number 5. In 1972, renowned Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky was asked to list his 10 favorite films and placed "City Lights" at number 5 whilst expressing his admiration for the director, "Chaplin is the only person to have gone down into cinematic history without any shadow of a doubt. The films he left behind can never grow old." In the 2003 documentary Chaplin: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, Woody Allen said it was Chaplin's best picture.

The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.


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