City Lights
Director: Charlie Chaplin. Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Harry Myers, Allan Garcia, Florence Lee. Screenplay: Charlie Chaplin.

Has there ever been a film actor, comic or otherwise, with such a precise and beguiling awareness of his entire body as Charlie Chaplin had? He is the only film personality I've ever encountered who knows when, where, and for exactly what length of time a single raised eyebrow or kicked-back heel, even a shrug of the shoulders can be made to seem like the funniest gesture in the world, not to mention the most elegant and revealing. City Lights, from its ingenious introduction of The Tramp stealing a nap beneath the drape of a monument scheduled for public revelation, to its final union of two people seeing each other for the first time after being acquainted more than a year, has all the heart, invention, and sprightliness for which Chaplin was famous. Perhaps more impressively, or more surprisingly, it also has jokes about suicide, alcoholism, and a stunningly ambiguous concluding fade-out that suggests a lamentable limit to what any person can see; like His Girl Friday and Chaplin's own Modern Times, this picture mines great jewels of comedy inside the rough and undigestible ore of human frailty, folly, and even despair. Only the teetery mawkishness of Virginia Cherrill's blind flower girl keeps City Lights from the Everest-peak levels of Modern Times, but I would challenge any director to make even that character and plotline as unsentimental as Chaplin manages to make them here. Grade: A

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