Review: City Lights (1931)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

  • Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
  • Metacritic: N/A
  • IMDb: 8.6

One of the poster-children of classic silent cinema, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights dazzles the audience not with bright colors, quick cuts, or anything that sells nowadays, but with the ability to fully tell a story with little to no dialogue; this masterpiece relies on body language and selling glances. As a fan of engaging and concise dialogue, I was surprised I enjoyed this film as much as I did. This is one of those films that opens you up to a whole new genre, in this case the world of silent film. After viewing this one a few times, I couldn’t help but go on to The Great Dictator, Modern Times, and other Chaplin hits; the latter being his generally conceived second most famous silent film.

⇠ ⇞ ⇢

Charlie has this inimitable ability to tell a story with body language almost more clearly than if dialogue creeped its way in. In other words, he creates scenes so rich in motion that dialogue would do nothing but get in the way. Placed at the top of AFI’s 100 Greatest Romantic Comedies of All Time, City Lights flirts with the Top 3 of my own personal all time list. I never would have thought that a slapstick comedy would make its way that high on the list, but seriously, check this one out and you’ll see what I mean.

City Lights 2

The timelessness of slapstick comedy is seen in its full light in this black and white tale. It has effortlessly lived up to its reputation even to the fourth time I watched it. This taste in comedy doesn’t mean it’s an early Dumb and Dumber, mind you, but an original love story that questions the “normal” aspects of a “perfect” relationship. In this specific case, Chaplin challenges the importance of physical appearance as a factor of falling in love. He tells the story of his beloved character, The Tramp, penniless and falling in love with a blind flower saleswoman. The kicker? She thinks he’s as rich as a Rockefeller, if not more so.


Classic. That’s the best way to describe every aspect of this work of art. As I once read, Chaplin’s movies are comparable to the music of The Beatles in a sense: Standing the test of time seems to be offhand — effortless. City Lights, it seems, has the ability to bring a smile to anyone’s face, no matter the viewer’s state of mind or taste in subject matter. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, it’s beautiful. Even through the emergence of ‘talkies’, slang at the time for movies with audible dialogue instead of intertitles, Chaplin risked his reputation and released what would be known by many critics in the film industry as his best work.

As far as quality goes with this one, you shouldn’t expect anything more than what you would think possible in the early 1930s. Black and white, cinematography based on camerawork as opposed to stunning visuals, etc. Now, the most impressive feat this film achieved for me is that it keeps your eyes glued to the screen. It can do this because the story is in the body language, the precise acting and the slapstick humor. Chaplin has had such an impact with films like these because the stories are universal — the body language doesn’t have much of a language barrier and simple acts of love for others are driven home by his immaculate style. City Lights is yet another story that puts The Tramp in the limelight with a mission in mind, which seems to be the perfect recipe for an excellent piece of cinema.

Drew – 3/22/17 ♘


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