City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)


Charles Chaplin (A Tramp). Directed by Charles Chaplin. Rating: U. Running time: 87 minutes.

City Lights is the first Chaplin film I’ve returned to since I’ve discovered, fallen in love with and grown to idolise Keaton. And it is, alas, not better than most of Buster’s brilliantly humorous work. In the debate in The Dreamers as to which one is funnier, I’m firmly in the Keaton camp. I found myself laughing far less than I did upon an initial viewing four years ago. There’s simply less innovation and surprising slapstick than one would expect from a silent comedy of such stature.

But fortunately this is probably to miss the pointThis is meant as much as a romance as a comedy, and on that front it does not fail. Keaton could never construct a sequence like City Lights‘ finale. It’s a moment of realisation and love brought together with such humanity in the acting that it’s no stretch to say it should be in everyone‘s list of top ten silver screen moments. You’ll do well to find a Valentine’s film as sweet and eventually quietly teary as this. And Chaplin pulls our emotional strings without a hint of manipulation, and without the need to resort to the utterance of a single word. Try to imagine the scale of that task; telling a genuinely moving love story without language. City Lights employs the image alone, and that suffices to make us sit and swoon.

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