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Image Entertainment presents
City Lights (1931)

"Yes, I can see now."
- Blind girl (who now recognizes the Tramp with her new eyesight)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 04, 2000

Stars: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill
Other Stars: Harry Myers, Florence Lee
Director: Charlie Chaplin

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (Suitable for all audiences)
Run Time: 01h:27m:06s
Release Date: February 08, 2000
UPC: 014381918120
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+A-A B-

DVD Review

Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp is well known for his pratfalls and extraordinary comedy sequences. But the character exists as more than an excuse for silly mayhem: he does not seek riches; he only desires acceptance from the social community and the women he loves. This goal adds relevance to the story and generates social criticism within the Tramp's adventures. Chaplin often ingeniously utilized the character's low social class to satirize and ridicule the dominant culture.

In City Lights, the Tramp falls in love with a pretty, blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), who mistakes him for a wealthy and important citizen. He also continually stops a rich, drunk man (Harry Myers) from committing suicide, which causes them to become friends. Their adventures cover several affluent parties and nightclubs, which lead to numerous hilarious scenes. Unfortunately, the wealthy man forgets about their adventures when he sobers up each time and disassociates himself from the Tramp. Chaplin deftly uses these situations to showcase the fickle nature of the upper class.

This film also contains several of Chaplin's best comedy set pieces. My favorite takes place at a local boxing arena. The blind flower girl lacks the funds for an operation to restore her sight, so the Tramp decides to try and earn the money. He concocts a deal with a fellow boxer to take it easy during the match and split the prize money. Unfortunately, that boxer splits, and the Tramp must fight a stern, more accomplished fighter. During the match, he uses deft footwork to keep the referee between himself and his opponent, and the staging is perfect. This is one of Chaplin's greatest creations, featuring choreographed mayhem to generate hilarious results.

During the lengthy production of City Lights, Chaplin faced a difficult decision. Should the Tramp speak? "Talkie" films were the new hot item, and it was possible audiences would ignore a silent film. Ultimately, the film remained silent, but Chaplin did include several sound effects to heighten the experience. The most ingenious device occurs in the film's opening at an important event for the city. While politicians present their haughty speeches, their voices come out as gibberish instead of actual words. With this effect, Chaplin satirized the popular talking films and the political speeches of the time. The Tramp's subsequent complete desecration of a grand monument adds to his ridicule of society.

The highlight here is the tender relationship between the blind flower girl and the Tramp. Even though she believes he has enormous wealth, she never asks him for anything, and appears to recognize his genuine kindness. This culminates in the heart-wrenching final scene, which occurs after the girl has regained her sight. At first, she takes pity on his shabby character. After touching his hands, she recognizes the Tramp as her benefactor. Her reaction is one of the great moments in screen history. This emotional connection showcases the marvelous power of this classic film. It stands as Chaplin's best work and one of the premier comedies in film history.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This impressive transfer for City Lights exists on another strata from the video release. It is bright and clear, with a level of detail and definition seldom seen on films from this time period. The digital mastering of the film negative passes with flying colors and adds to the excellent viewing experience. Due to the age of the film, there are obvious imperfections: some minor defects that signal the limitations of the technology of the time period. However, they fail to detract too much from the exceptional images of the film.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish Titlesno
PCMEnglish Titlesyes

Audio Transfer Review: This DVD includes two vastly different audio soundtracks. Purists may choose Chaplin's original 1931 score for the film recorded on a mono track. It includes all of the key sound effects and music from the film, but lacks the clarity or depth of even basic stereo soundtracks of today. The second option is a PCM stereo score conducted by Carl Davis in 1989. The improvements in sound technology helped Davis to form an unbelievable re-creation of Chaplin's original vision. The score follows the original almost exactly, and it adds energy, depth, and clarity to the 1931 score. Music and effects play a critical role in City Lights, and the new track heightens their impact on the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Business data, including negative cost and gross receipts
  2. Publicity items from 1931 and 1950 release of the film
  3. New digital recording of the original score conducted by Carl Davis in 1989
Extras Review: While the City Lights DVD does not include a large score of extras, it does contain several interesting features. The highlight is a 15-minute interview with composer Carl Davis, who conducted the re-recording of the score for the film in 1989 in conjunction with the Chaplin Centennial. The interview focuses on Davis' diligent efforts to match Chaplin's original score from 1931. He does an excellent job explaining the complexity and importance of the score to the completed film. It stands as a textbook of the function of sound for Chaplin in film. Davis' insights provide a nice supplement to the wonderfully restored score.

The extras also contain Chaplin's original story notes, promotional pieces, and business information on the film. The story notes are too complex and intricate for the casual film viewer; however, a student of film willing to take the time will discover a glimpse into the mind of a comedic genius. Glancing through the notes takes about five minutes, but you probably need much longer to really study them. The promotional pieces provide views of a reproduction of an original press book for the film in 1931 and during its re-release in 1950. They contain creative drawings, games, and contests. Fans in 1931 could even purchase souvenir hats or tire covers from the film. The last feature is a brief slide show covering the business side of City Lights, including the negative costs, production record, and gross receipts for the film. The information provided is extremely specific and even notes the cost of film materials.

The lack of considerable extra features is understandable because the film goes back nearly 70 years. However, it would have been wonderful to hear a feature commentary from a prominent film historian or critic. It could have helped to stress this film's importance in history and Charlie Chaplin's continued relevance in today's society. City Lights is a classic and it would have benefited from a more comprehensive release.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Chaplin's amazing comedic talents and relevance are becoming lost with today's big budget "event films." This City Lights DVD is highly recommended, especially for today's younger movie audiences who haven't experienced his genius. It stands as his masterpiece, a historical document that highlights Chaplin's combination of hilarious comedy and heartfelt drama.


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