City Lights (USA, 1931, Charlie Chaplin)
Unwilling to bend to the winds of change, which saw the introduction of the spoken word in movies three years earlier, Chaplin's is a silent film. However, he does use music and sound effects cleverly throughout, even employing them pointedly to satirize "the talkies." Other familiar targets are the hypocrisy, prissiness, and arrogance of wealthy "polite society" and cruelty to society's less fortunate, lovable outcasts like The Little Tramp himself.
Chaplin's physical comedy is, of course, riotously funny. He dances along the highwire between hilarity and disaster with aplomb. All the while, Chaplin's Little Tramp maintains his dignity and sense of fair play. City Lights's parallel plot lines, the first a love story between the Tramp and a blind flower girl and the second with a suicidal millionaire, unfold efficiently and dovetail beautifully to an unforgettable ending. The narrative involving The Little Tramp and the suicidal millionaire presages themes developed more fully in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life whil the pathos-ridden love story with the blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) plays on universal themes, such as the intoxicating blindness of love and the rejuvenating power of selflessness.
A graceful, athletic artist of pantomime, Chaplin's Little Tramp moves effortlessly between figures of destitution and wealth, aiding and abetting all around him. City Lights is a paean to our best impulses, a plea for humanitarianism and justice. This is one of those rare creatures, the work of a master craftsman in full control of his craft.
City Lights is widely considered to be Charles Chaplin's finest film, no small accomplishment considering his long string of great films. The film is a Chaplin tour-de-force, as he has his hand in almost every aspect of its production. He co-wrote, produced, directed, scored and edited the film.