Film Review – City Lights (1931)

Charlie Chaplin in City Lights out now in the UK on Criterion Collection

He’s film’s most iconic tramp, Charlie Chaplin returns with what  some consider his greatest film, City Lights. Now released  and restored by The Criterion Collection on Blu-ray with a host of fantastic extras.

This is one of Chaplin’s most cherished films.  As for my previous statement  it’s his greatest film, that off course is personal choice. The Silent era of Hollywood made and shaped Chaplin, it made him a superstar.

A superstar in physical comedy and dramatic sentiments. Could you say he was cinema’s first true superstar? Without him and his comrades Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd there probably be no Tom Cruise, Jackie Chan. Even the likes of Louise Brooks and Greta Garbo played their part.

When Charlie Chaplin was making this away back in 1928, sound was knocking on tinsel town’s door . Hollywood was embracing and wanted their  Tramp to speak, Chaplin said no. By the time City Lights was released in 1931 Talkies where taking over the industry. The stars of the silent age one by one either turned to dust or gave in and talked. Society was also at crumbling point with The Wall Street crash which closed down the film for a time. Chaplin risked everything and history of course vindicated his choice.

This film is full of expression, love, trademark Chaplin slapstick. Charlie Chaplin was the personification silent comedy.

This romantic comedy sees our lovable vagrant falling in love with a young blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) who selling flowers on the street. She is selling those flowers day after day in to raise the funds to get her sight back. She mistakes him for a millionaire, she also fears he will abandon her.

You wonder if Chaplin gave into sound, what things would have been like? Would this film still have been a momentous achievement? A landmark film like with Modern Times (1936)? Was that truly a ‘silent’ ? Some critics say yes, despite Chaplin singing in it. His 1940 film The Great Dictator would become his first true talkie, it was also the start of the descent of his career.

Hollywood and the film industry survived on risk takers likes of Charlie Chaplin. Going against the grain, reluctant to give into trends but also willing to try new ways (even if that means rejecting others). He doesn’t abandoned his traditions as well, despite the popularity of the talkies, there always seemed to be room for Chaplin.

City Lights was a  slapstick comedy,  adventure, it also had much more. Chaplin introduced more drama, romance, something he tried unsuccessfully with A Woman In Paris his directorial debut. As we’ve mentioned before, he was a risk taker and found the right time to reintroduce genres . He foresaw his films had depth and weight to go beyond his quintessential slapstick hokum.

This film’s message touched class and encouraged viewers to open their arms to the lower class hero. Inequality played a big part of the story and never overpowers it either. Our protagonist despite the difference embarked on a friendship with a millionaire (Al Ernest Garcia) who both see other as drinking buddies. Our flower girl does not discriminate anyone.

City Lights is Charlie Chaplin’s crowning achievement. A film that actually mocks that modern talkie, one of love but also one of acceptance. He could make you laugh, smile maybe and even a little sad in the same film. Chaplin will be known as one of the pioneer superstars of Hollywood. He’s also one of the true greats who could masterfully be wonderful both sides of the camera.

The film comes with an array of extras for this disc are trademark Criterion Collection. Those extras include a great commentary from Chaplin’s biographer Jeffrey Vance that got you interested in the creative process, even what inspired Chaplin (whose father was an alcoholic). There is a  group of great little featurettes including one fascinating one from Chaplin’s  historian Hooman Mehran which offers  insight to the flower girl scene which she meets the tramp for the first time. Amazingly  342 takes over several years different actresses before Chaplin was satisfied. The film was watched on a 4K TV which was not a high end  4K TV, however the  Video and audio quality where equally great.


Movie ★★★★★ Extras ★★★★ Audio & Video ★★★★

Comedy, Drama | USA, 1931 | 15 | Blu-ray | 12th December 2022 (UK) | Criterion Collection/ Sony Pictures | Dir. Charlie Chaplin | Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Al Ernest Garcia

City Lights Blu-ray out now from Criterion Collection


  • New, restored 4K digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Charlie Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance
  • Chaplin Today: “City Lights,” a 2003 documentary on the film’s production, featuring Aardman Animations cofounder Peter Lord
  • Chaplin Studios: Creative Freedom by Design, a new interview program featuring visual effects expert Craig Barron
    Archival footage from the production of City Lights, including film from the set, with audio commentary by Chaplin historian Hooman Mehran; a costume test; a rehearsal; and a complete scene not used in the film
  • Excerpt from Chaplin’s short film The Champion (1915), along with footage of the director with boxing stars at Chaplin Studios in 1918
  • Trailer
    PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Gary Giddins and a 1966 interview with Chaplin
Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (35.18 Mbps) Resolution: 1080p Aspect ratio: 1.19:1 Original aspect ratio: 1.2:1 Audio English: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)

Originally posted At The Peoples Movies on 12th December 2022 | original review link

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