G, 1 hr. 30 min. Directed By: Charles Chaplin. Release Date: Jan 1, 1931. DVD Release Date: Feb 8, 2000.
I’d never seen a Charlie Chaplin movie before, or at least, I don’t remember ever having seen one. I was familiar with the Tramp, mostly because the character’s so iconic that I’d have to be totally blind to have missed it in my wandering through the world of movies. I was expecting something quirky, with themes so classic that people could still rave about this movie more than 80 years after its initial release.
Think about that for a minute. 80 years later and people still fall in love with this movie. I’m going to admit I wasn’t (exactly) one of them. Some of what we see in this tale is straight out of Shakespeare, the themes are so classic. The actors are top notch, and I absolutely love Virginia Cherrill’s face when she’s supposed to be giving us her “blue steel” of disbelief expression. It’s what I started to call her “whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” face and it was awesome. I was surprised that I thought this movie was as funny as it was, but for me, at the end of the day, the comedy was slapstick, which is one of the lower forms of comedy as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong, it was still head and shoulders above the slapstick that appears these days, but I wish some of the comedy had come from the dialogue cards.
So, I did like this movie, but I didn’t love it, and I wonder if the early scenes had something to do with it. That scene where there’s a speech going on and rather than remain a silent film, Mr. Chaplin elected to do something not unlike Charlie Brown’s teacher every time someone spoke into a microphone, which was often and at length. I was moderately annoyed by the time the scene was over, even though I laughed at the antics that followed.
City Lights isn’t just funny, however. It’s also a very sweet story of mistaken identity that reminds me of Shakespeare’s plays, but I’m not sure exactly why or which ones. Thematically, it just seemed similar. I can tell you that the sacrifices that the Tramp goes through in order to make life better for the blind girl reminded me (a little) of both Romeo and Juliet and O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, especially considering what happens at the end.
I’m glad I had this added to my list. City Lights is an outstanding film, but for whatever reason, it didn’t speak to me like I thought it would. I think it’s well above the average (particularly if you’re looking at modern movie releases), and has a story with themes that humans have loved for centuries. It’s entry on any list of classic movies worth watching is a definite given.