After the success of “The Jazz Singer ”, Talkies were no longer a joke to those who laughed upon the idea of the merging of sound and images. Possibilities opened for a long list of young mediocre actors who could speak their dialogues well. In Simple words, there were no limitations in cinema anymore. It was a great development and everyone in the industry had something to benefit from it except the stars of the silent era.
A lot of actors went out of work once the talkies completely took over and no one had more to lose than the biggest star of Hollywood then, Charlie Chaplin. City Lights was his ultimate test and the world was rather curious if he would be able to entertain like before now that dialogues are a viable option.
Charlie Chaplin used sounds in Citylights but not in the way people expected, as the film started, there was a political speech where the characters are saying something, which sounded nothing more than a harsh squeal, this is how Chaplin took a dig on talkies “silently”.
City Lights is the story of a tramp, played by Chaplin who falls for the blind flower girl [Virginia Cherrill]. The blind flower girl mistakes the tramp for a rich man and the tramp promises the girl to pay for her eye operation.
The tramp saved a man who was going to commit suicide; this man turns out to be a millionaire [Harry Myers] and becomes his friend. The millionaire is mostly drunk and has a dual personality; he despises the tramp when he is sober while he becomes a really caring and protective friend of the tramp when he is drunk.
The Tramp was quite a familiar character by then as Chaplin used to play the tramp in most of his films of the 1920s. However this time, Chaplin deepened the character and gave him more meaning and a subtle amount of Fragility. In a time when Talkies was such a rage, Chaplin retained the tramp’s charm by not indulging him in words. Also, Words and Voice limits one’s connect to those who can understand, but it was the silence that gave Chaplin and The Tramp a universal appeal.
Charlie Chaplin used to work with accomplished and beautiful actresses who were equally beautiful; either it is “The Kid” or “Modern Times” or “The City Lights”, the lead actresses were quite a charmer. Virginia Cherrill was brilliant as the blind flower girl, she deliberately underplayed her part showing the right amount of innocence as you’d expect from a poor blind girl and later displayed a little carefree attitude as the circumstances of her life improves.
Citylights is a treasure of classic comedy scenes; the open elevator scene on the streets, the attempted suicide at the canal, the parties with the rich millionaire and of course the boxing scene where Chaplin fights a boxer for money and does everything to avoid being hit. These were some of the greatest scenes in cinema and they were all in one single movie. My favourite is of course the heart wrenching climax, which is perhaps one of my favourite scenes from any Charlie Chaplin film. And I have seen a lot of them.
A great scene after another great scene, that’s how masterpieces look like. These scenes from Chaplin’s career has been imitated in one way or the other by so many film makers that you can easily say that Charlie Chaplin was one of the most influential person in Cinema.
“One night the Piazza San Marco was darkened, and “City Lights” was shown on a vast screen. When the flower girl recognized the Tramp, I heard much snuffling and blowing of noses around me; there wasn’t a dry eye in the piazza. Then complete darkness fell, and a spotlight singled out a balcony overlooking the square. Charlie Chaplin walked forward, and bowed. I have seldom heard such cheering.” wrote Late Roger Ebert in his review of City Lights.