What you are about to see in the film City Lights (1931) is a funny and emotional motion picture. This is an extraordinary silent film; it is poetic, moving, and tender. Charlie Chaplin is a master at comedic pantomime, conveying everything he does without the necessity of actually talking, but through the universal language of movement, gestures, and reactionary expressions. The film humorously displays the misadventures of the “Little Tramp” character and the harsh reality of The Great Depression.
During the 1930s, the setting of which the film takes lace in, nearly every major industrialize country was experiencing “a severe worldwide economic depression, however, in most countries it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century” (Wikipedia). As the film starts, the opening captions reads exactly what the film is about and establishes the way in which Chaplin is going to perform by stating “A Comedy Romance In Pantomime. ” The film begins with the unveiling of a new city statue by the mayor and assorted aristocrats.
However, a sleeping tramp is revealed esting on it once the white sheet is removed for the ceremony. The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) ungraciously dismounts from the marble statue in humorist fashion. Later, he meets a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill) selling flowers on the sidewalk. He buys a one and walks away. The young woman lives with her grandmother (Florence Lee), but feels alone and sad because of her blindness. At night, the tramp prevents a drunken man (Harry Myers) from killing himself by jumping into the river, but in a humorous way the tramp nearly drowns instead the strange man saves him.
The suicidal man is actually n eccentric millionaire, lives in a mansion, and invites the tamp to celebrate at his house. They instantly become fast friends, they hit the city’s nightlife, venture into a ballroom, drink, eat, smoke, and dance until dawn. Drunken driving antics ensue on the way back to home, but the Butler (Al Ernest Garcia) refuses to let him in. Meanwhile, the blind girl comes strolling by selling more flowers. The millionaire orders the Butler to let his friends back in and gets some money to buy flowers. The tramp buys all the flowers from the girl, and to her delight, drives her home.
Unbeknownst to her, the tramp drives the millionaire’s car, and she assumes her kind man is wealthy. He begs to see her again, and she is very happy. By morning, the millionaire is sober, meaner, and kicks the tramp out. Later, that afternoon, the tramp meets the drunken millionaire again, and he invites him to his mansion for a big party. During the party, the little tramp accidentally swallows a whistle causing some funny moments of confusion and laughter. The next day, the millionaire has no memory of the tramp, and kicks him out the house again.
He goes looking for the flower irl, but secretly discovers that she is very ill, and desperately needs an eye operation to get better. He decides to get a job to help her out. He becomes a street cleaner man, picking up trash and horse poop, and occasionally a wondering elephant. In the meantime, the grandmother of the blind girl receives a final notice of failure to pay rent, a whopping $22 dollars, today that does not seem like a lot, but once calculated from 1931 into today’s money of 2016 is equal to $323 in rent. During a lunch break, the tramp visits the blind girl, bringing her food, and he spends time with her.
She is very appy to have someone come visit her. He reads to her a newspaper stating that a Vienna Doctor has a cured blindness. She says, “Wonderful! Then l’ll be able to see you. ” The tramp agrees, but is worried that once she sees him, she may not like him because he is poor and not rich. He accidentally reads to her the final rent notice to pay by tomorrow, if not; her and her grandmother will be homeless. She begins to sob and the tramp tells her not to worry, he will pay the bill for her in the morning. However, upon returning to work late, he is instantly fired.
However, soon afterwards he is ffered a shady job as a boxer to earn the prize money with an accomplice. He agrees to split the money, but his partner dropped out, and replaced by a real prizefighter who wants all the winnings equaling $50 ($735). Next, comes the perfectly choreograph fight sequenced which is very funny to watch as the tramp tries to avoid being pummeled by his serious opponent in the boxing ring. In the end, the tramp is knocked out, and having lost, he wonders the city trying to think up a way to help the blind girl. He again stumbles upon the alcoholic millionaire who invites him back to his house.
The millionaire gives the tramp $1,000 ($14,691) to help the blind girl; however, neither of them is aware that two burglars are in the house with them. They knock the millionaire out cold, the tamp fights them off, and calls the police over. Nevertheless, the first police officer to arrive and the Butler assume the tramp struck the millionaire down, and stole his money. The tramp cleverly escapes capture, by next morning; he arrives at the blind girl’s house, and gives her all the money to use for the rent and to fix her eyes. She is very grateful for his unselfish generosity. She wishes to see him again when her eyesight comes back.
But he regrettably informs her that he may be going away for a while. She is overwhelmed with tears of joy for his kindness and deeply sad that may or may not return to her. Later, the police grab him; he serves time in jail starting in January and out by the autumn season, some 9 months later. He wonders the city, reminiscing about the girl who he can’t locate. He looks worst than before, more like a homeless hobo than just a bum, appearing more weary and disheveled in his tattered clothing. The once blind girl is now the owner of a outique flower shop displayed along the city street.
The little tramp unknowingly walks by her flower shop, the public instantly laughs at him for his poor appearance, and even the girl laughs at him. The girl is unaware who the tramp really is. The tramp turns to look at her and is shocked to see the blind girl is not blind anymore. She offers to give him a free flower and some money, but as he tries to leave, embarrassed by how he must look, she stops him. Feeling sorry for him, the girl quickly puts some money in his hand. But suddenly, she realizes that she has felt is hand before when she was blind.
It is the same kind man that helped her before when on one else would. “You? ” she asked bewildered. “You can see now? ‘ He asked in return. She answers back, “Yes, I can see now. ” Her dreams have been answered, to meet again the kind man she loves, to look upon his face for the first time. Moreover, with watery eyes she now knows this caring poor man saved her from a life of despair. She pulls his hand closer to her heart, smiles back at him, and he smiles back. The measure of true love is not about money or power, but through humble kindness towards one another.