After not having seen any of the Greatest Films of All Time since mid-December, I’ve seen two in the past week. Following my viewing of the awesome Man with a Movie Camera was Charlie Chaplin’s 1931 City Lights. I had seen City Lights before and remembered enjoying it. A second viewing confirmed that opinion.
I find the premise to be clever. Chaplin, as The Tramp, falls for a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill) who mistakes him for a wealthy society man. Meanwhile, Chaplin saves the life of an eccentric millionaire (Harry Myers) who befriends him but only while he is drunk. Sober, he does not even recall meeting The Tramp who is trying to leverage his friendship to win over and help the flower girl.
The set pieces here are among Chaplin’s best and most famous: the opening sequence of him sleeping on the statues, him in the boxing ring, him swallowing of the whistle, him and his wealthy friend at the dance club. His relationship with the drunk rich man is as endearing and his courtship of the flower girl is touching. The last open-ended scene is brilliant and moving. This is simply a wonderful and entertaining film. It also touches on many important issues, from living during the Great Depression to alcoholism to ideas of masculinity.
It is similar, in some ways, to The General in that it relies heavily on slapstick and misunderstandings (Buster Keaton’s soldier to Chaplin’s rich man) in what is essentially a love story. I find City Lights to be a richer and more satisfying experience, so I’ll rank it higher than that but I’m a little torn as to whether or not I want to rank it above Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. Since I have some hesitation, I’ll put it below Sunrise.
My ratings so far:
- Metropolis (1927)
- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
- City Lights (1931)
- The General (1926)
- The Man with the Movie Camera (1929)
- Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Next Up: L’Atalante