City Lights (1931)

city lights
Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill

'City Lights' is a romantic comedy silent movie made in 1931, starring Charlie Chaplin, and also written and directed by him. The movie also stars Virginia Cherrill and Harry Myers. It is generally regarded as Chaplin's greatest film and representing the peak of his art and reputation. The movie brilliantly illustrates Chaplin's comic genius combined with elements of pathos, slapstick and romance. The heart-rending final scene has justly become famous as one of the most emotionally charged in movie history.

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On its release 'City Lights' was an immediate success at the box office and with the critics, and grossed $2million in domestic rentals. The movie has if anything, grown in stature over the years and has recently been ranked at number 11 by the American Film Institute on its list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time. It shows a master craftsman working at his brilliant best. It is a masterpiece of pathos and slapstick, comedy and romance, an absolute treasure.

Plot Outline

The plot is pleasingly simple and presents Chaplin's famous Little Tramp character in a series of episodes as he first falls in love with a beautiful blind flower girl and then takes on a number of jobs in order to raise money for an operation to restore her sight.

This gives ample scope for Chaplin to devise some brilliantly funny scenes, such as the boxing match with the tramp the referee and the prizefighter moving in perfect synchronisation. At the end the girl's sight is restored and she sees her benefactor for the first time in the sublime and touching final scene. Chaplin's genius is such that he makes us laugh and cry at the same time.


The film was released in 1931, and although Hollywood had completely switched over to sound pictures several years earlier, Chaplin took the decision to make the movie a 'Silent' and it contains no speech or dialogue at all, although later, after the shooting of the film, Chaplin incorporated sound effects and composed and conducted his own score. As a result the movie was not nominated for any Academy Awards as it seemed to the Academy members to be a retrograde step in the new world of sound.

Chaplin was renowned as a perfectionist and it took him a record 342 takes until he could accept as satisfactory the critical scene where the blind girl sells him a flower, thinking him a millionaire.

Main Cast

Charles Chaplin ... A Tramp
Virginia Cherrill ... A Blind Girl
Florence Lee ... The Blind Girl's Grandmother
Harry Myers ... An Eccentric Millionaire
Al Ernest Garcia ... The Eccentric Millionaire's Butler
Hank Mann ... Boxer


Director ... Charles Chaplin
Producer ... Charles Chaplin
Production Company ... Charles Chaplin Productions
Story and Screenplay ... Charles Chaplin
Initial Release ... 1 March, 1931
Running Time ... 87 minutes

Academy Awards

No wins. No nominations