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City Lights: SE

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . B&W . 83 mins . G . PAL


Much has been said about this film; one which Charlie Chaplin boldly made silent at the time the world audience was demanding talkies. Bringing the Little Tramp to the new cinema world of talking movies was a massive risk considering his previous adventures had been screened worldwide in silence. A voice to the Little Tramp would be akin to eliminating half his audience when he finally spoke in English. The beauty of the silent film in English was that the dialogue cards could, of course, be edited into any local dialect.

In blatant defiance, Chaplin kept his mouth shut and ignored the fact there even were talking films, even making fun of them in the opening sequences of this 1931 film. And it worked stupendously well. City Lights remains one of Chaplin’s finest films and is still listed among the 100 greatest American films of all time. And rightly so, as this is a magnificent film telling a simple tale with warmth, humour and more than a little sentiment that thankfully steers miles clear of schmaltz.

The Little Tramp becomes besotted with a blind flower seller who mistakes him for a rich gentleman. Being in the right place at the wrong time, the Tramp saves the life of a distraught and drunken millionaire whose wife has left him and is attempting suicide. They go on a bender together and, two days later, the Tramp isn’t recognised by the man when he awakens sober. Meanwhile, the blind girl is in financial trouble and the Tramp, hopelessly in love, is attempting everything he can do get the money she needs to both survive and undergo an operation that will allow her to see.

The closing moments of this film remain some of the most poignant and genuinely sentimental moments of cinematic history, with the subtlety of nuance and understated acting perfectly capturing the touching connection of two simple human beings. Throughout the film, Chaplin had all manner of trouble making it work, thoroughly re-shooting scenes to get every scene perfect, regardless of the cost. The set-up scene for the entire thread of the narrative of the Tramp meeting the blind girl for the first time took an incredible 300 takes to get right! Such a concept would be unheard of today, but Chaplin had the facilities and the motivation to do so by now, having made his fortune and built his own studio for the creation of film.

In the end, this is most definitely worth whatever costs Chaplin accrued, having created a film as easily understood and as brilliantly conceived as any great work since. His simple use of metaphor and his warmly likeable character of the Tramp speaks volumes even as the film speaks not a word of dialogue. The premise is almost impossibly easy and yet so beautiful, we cannot help but be drawn into its magical simplicity. In this burgeoning 21st century, the film also speaks of a simpler time while even appearing much harder than today. In this regard I suppose it then speaks to everyone, regardless of their age or experience. Life’s problems are always present, regardless of whether we are in or out of the money. It’s how we meet them as human beings that will invariably make the difference in the long run of our lives.


As with the other feature releases in this series, the film is in lovingly restored black and white. There are the to-be-expected film artefacts throughout, but the bulk of these seem to have been repaired or removed leaving mostly minimal or at least non-disruptive damage. Again the film is delivered in 4:3 with the contrasts having been re-evaluated and re-mastered to create the overall saturation evenly. Shadow detail is surprisingly good, but then I think people knew of the limits of b+w back then, so obviously planned the shoot accordingly. Blacks are true, thankfully with only minimal moments of deeper grey. For a 1931 film this looks as good as it will ever look (unless someone is reading this two hundred years from now and laughing at me, in which case it doesn’t).


It’s a silent movie, so naturally all the dialogue takes place in the above section. However, Chaplin does take a stand against the talkies in the opening moments where a statue is being officially opened in the park and the public speakers all do so in the hilarious sound effect of the kazoo. Yep, that greatest and most humourous of musical instruments finally gets its due here in a truly hilarious scene. Chaplin’s accomplishments with the statue itself are also brilliantly devised and entirely funny and I should have mentioned that in the film bit. Sorry.

Music has again been scored by Chaplin and he has created a uniquely moving score for the film right down to the most detailed moments of the action. A brilliant and talented man, he has again proven himself as an entirely versatile and worthy father to modern cinema (among others).

Also, the original mono track has been stretched out to the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround field, but is quite wasted in doing so. There’s nothing here but faint music in the surrounds and nothing the entirely capable remastered mono track doesn’t manage.


Ah, my second favourite bit of these releases. Here we again receive a second disc full o’ fun and dredged-up historical documents that, while not always being the most engrossing, are at least saved for posterity and are certianly worth a look.

First up, the misplaced intro featurette places the film into the context of Chaplin’s life. It brings in some statistics (like the film took an incredible 179 days to shoot!) and is a nice wading point for the set, but should be placed before the film on Disc One. However…

Chaplin Today is a chapter documentary featuring all the releases and dealing specifically with each film. Here we get interviews and appraisals from Peter Lord, co-creator of Aardman Animation who we all know for classic think-pieces like Chicken Run and the Wallace and Gromit series. Here he speaks lovingly of Chaplin and the influence he had on his own work and includes an amazing little piece from the Morph series in which Chaplin is reborn as a small plasticene man. A brilliant piece running for 26:47.

The well-regarded outtake Chaplin removed from the film due to it slowing the already sluggish pacing follows. This 7:06 piece is among Chaplin’s most beloved scenes in the film and is technically a deleted scene rather than an outtake. Worth the look, but yes, it would have slowed things considerably. Funny though.

The Documents section always seems to hold the rarest of miscellaneous treasures and here we have eight separate featurettes (for want of a better term).

Shooting is a grainy behind the scenes running for 8:02 in abject silence.

Georgia Hale’s Screen Test refers to Chaplin’s dislike of his co-star and his wish to replace her mid-film. Georgia Hale is an older acquaintance of Chaplin’s, but the shoot was too far gone to replace Virginia Cherrill, the blind girl we see in the film today.

The Dream Prince is just confusing and seemingly unrelated, but is in fact how the blind girl sees her mysterious rich guy in this deleted scene (1:10).

Rehearsal is 1:25 of Chaplin rehearsing the dangerous and clever goods elevator scene.

Chaplin and Boxing Stars features Chaplin and boxers Harry Mansell and Benny Leonard mugging for the camera back in 1918 (4:27).

Winston Churchill Visit sees the man on Chaplin’s lot standing around for photos mostly while Charlie does ballet. 1:59 and weird.

Chaplin Speaks! is footage of the first time Chaplin’s voice was recorded on film, and is treated as a bit of a coup by the press of the time (German or Austrian). Plus, Chaplin seems to have invented crowd-surfing as well. Guten tag, Charlie.

Trip to Bali is colour Super 8 footage of Chaplin and his son Sydney in Bali and runs for a long 9:57. Silent too.

The Champion is a short film excerpt (9:31) from 1918 that sees Chaplin and his first boxing routine on film. A lot of this was improved and better choreographed for the 1931 fight scene in City Lights. Very funny though.

8:24 of trailers looped together into a short film presented in first English, then French, then German follows. They are all different at least.

A photo gallery with six subheadings holds a bunch of various pics from the shoot plus some from Italy in 1954 promoting the film. All up this section runs for 9:36.

A film poster gallery comes next and this is again a highlight with 26 images from around the world and includes releases right up until the ’70s. I love the posters they include on these discs.

Finally there’s the trailers for the rest of the films in this set, but they are actually excerpts from the films themselves. These (numbering 11 or so) are found on each extras disc in this series.

That’s more Chaplin action than you can bear, no doubt, but adds volumes to the value of the release. Thank goodness they didn’t make these budget releases with no extras.


Another brilliant excursion into the mind of one of the true geniuses of cinema and comedy and the marriage of the two. City Lights is a gentle and simple film, incorporating some very funny sequences among the sentimental storyline of a humble man in love with a humble girl. The extras again weigh down the disc with information and authentic articles of the period contributing greatly to the final value of the piece.

The film is a certified classic and is a touching and sweet story with more levels than just appear on the surface. It looks as good as it ever could and probably even better than it did upon initial release. Great fun.

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      And I quote...
    "Chaplin does it again with a brilliantly devised yet humble story of a little tramp in love with a blind flower girl that's both funny and touching. Chaplin is still king."
    - Jules Faber
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