Chaplin's Little Tramp
"Of all Chaplin's films ....City
Lights offers the
fullest characterization of the Tramp. He's a
loner who comes and goes almost like a
dream figure or a drunken angel. Without
family, friends, or a place to live, he stands
outside of our reality, sometimes trying to fit
in and sometimes not caring whether or not
he does. Yet, like a child, he is a complete
innocent with a pure heart and the best
motives. The most touching thing about his
relationship with the Flower Girl is that,
because she is blind, she cannot see his
shabby appearance and does not judge
him the way others do. And, when her
sightlessness has been lifted, her attitude
does not change. Her new eyes see past
the hobo's clothing."
Ebert on City Lights
"If only one of Charles Chaplin's
films could be preserved, ``City Lights'' (1931) would come
the closest to representing all the different notes
of his genius. It contains the slapstick, the
pathos, the pantomime, the effortless physical
coordination, the melodrama, the bawdiness,
the grace, and, of course, the Little Tramp--the
character said, at one time, to be the most
famous image on earth."
Ebert on the Magic of City Lights
Having just viewed ``City Lights'' and ``Modern Times'' again, I am still under their spell. Chaplin's gift was truly magical. And silent films themselves create a reverie state; there is no dialogue, no obtrusive super-realism, to interrupt the flow. They stay with you. They are not just a work, but a place.
Most of Chaplin's films are available on video. Children who see them at a certain age don't notice they're ``silent'' but notice only that every frame speaks clearly to them, without all those mysterious words that clutter other films. Then children grow up, and forget this wisdom, but the films wait patiently and are willing to teach us again.
Delbanco on the Genius of City Lights
"The genius of this film is not necessarily in its plot, although its very romantic overtones create a wonderful breeding ground for the pathos that Chaplin wanted to create. If not just the plot, the genius is in the execution of each scene, as the film builds to a crescendo that crashes into the final scene—perhaps the greatest ending in the history of cinema. Each scene was done to perfection—Chaplin shot the scene where he meets the flower girl 342 times until it was to his liking. Some scenes, like the famous boxing sequence, are hysterically funny, and others, such as where Charlie begs his millionaire sometimes-friend not to kill himself, are very poignant. The common theme, which winds itself into every aspect of this film, is the air of quiet desperation that pervades Chaplin's character. Always the loner, the tramp has finally found the one person who accepts him--perhaps only because she cannot see him. In any case, he will do anything— anything —for her, and in the more manic scenes, the score appropriately rises to reflect his almost crazed passion.
"Towards the end of the film, Chaplin is forced to essentially steal money from his friend to pay for the eye operation. (In a cruel twist of fate, his friend only remembers Charlie when drunk out of his mind.) After giving the money to his love, he tells her (through a dialogue card, of course) that he “will be going away for a little while.” In other words, he knows that he will soon be going to jail, but cannot quite bear to tell her. Months pass, and the final scene shows the even dirtier than usual tramp walking down the street. We come to realize that he is walking past the flower girl's new shop—she can now see and is beautiful and sought after by very eligible young men. In an encounter that must be seen to be understood, she gives the tramp a flower out of pity, and touches his face. In that moment, she realizes who he is, and all her dreams of the rich gentleman who will someday come back to her are dashed. The camera fades to black on their faces as he asks her: "You can see now?" She responds simply: "Yes. I can see now." The last image is of Chaplin's heart-broken, yet slightly hopeful face.
"Orson Welles said that City Lights was the greatest film ever made. Whether or not he is right, the final scene is certainly the most indelible cinematic moment in my mind. The mixture of mutual love and despair on the faces of Chaplin and the flower girl—all in a few fleeting seconds—display more emotion than thousands of words of dialogue could ever convey. "
City Lights (1931) Review by Ben Delbanco
1. Why does the blind girl think
the tramp is a millionaire?
2. How does the background music
in this movie drive the story and the plot?
3. Why does the tramp keep the millionaire
from killing himself?
4. Who do you think is the primary
audience for this movie?
5. How are the wealthy portrayed
in this movie? Why are they shown partying so often?
6. Why does the tramp fall in love
with the blind girl?
7. Why doesn't the millionaire recognize
the tramp when he is sober?
8. Does the tramp want to be respected
and seen like a gentlemen?
9. Why doesn't the tramp like work?
10. Are there times in the movie
where people don't see the tramp, and they blindly walk around him?
11. How does the tramp approach
people after getting out of jail after serving time for robbery?
12. Does the blind girl, who can
now see, fall in love with the tramp when she recognizes him? Did she already love the
13. What does the blind girl mean
when she tells the tramp, "I can see now"?
14. Does the tramp hope that the
blind girl, who can now see, will still love him even if he is just