Sunday, April 18, 2010

Favourite Film Scenes: City Lights (1931)

DIRECTED BY: Charlie Chaplin
STARRING: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherill

BASIC PLOT: A Tramp (Chaplin) falls in love with a young blind woman (Cherill) who sells flowers on the street as a means of earning money for herself and her grandmother. She hopes to raise enough money to have an operation that will restore her sight. The Tramp does everything in his power to raise money for her, including befriending a wealthy duke and entering a boxing match. The blind woman thinks that the Tramp is a wealthy benefactor and, since he's fallen in love with her, he doesn't want her to know that he's actually poor.

FAVOURITE SCENE: It's the final scene of the film. The blind girl has had the operation and her sight is fully restored, although she never discovered the identity of the man who helped her. She now owns her own flower shop where she witnesses the Tramp being harrassed by people on the street. At first, she laughs along until she notices the way the Tramp is looking at her, through the window of her store. This is probably one of my favourite Chaplin reactions, as he's staring at her through the glass. At first he's shocked to see her, then he just stands there, so thrilled that her life took such a turn for the best. It's obvious he still loves her. Then, she goes outside on the street, to give him a flower and some money. When she touches his hand, she recognizes how it feels, and it slowly dawns on her that the Tramp was the young man who so selflessly raised all that money for her. The title card for Chaplin reads, "You can see now?" to which the girl responds, "Yes, I can see now." Cue tears.

WHY?: Without using actual words, Charlie Chaplin was able to convey one of the most honest and moving  reactions to love that I've ever seen on film. His face is that of genuine happiness.

In high school, my English teacher showed us Modern Times. Everyone knows the iconic image of Chaplin's body flipping around in the wheel of a giant machine. I enjoyed the film but it still took me a few more years to fully appreciate the talent that was Charlie Chaplin. About six years ago I decided to watch City Lights based on the recommendation of one of my friends. He promised me that the ending of the film would blow my mind. But that's all he said. He was right.

I remember watching the American Film Institute's Top 100 Films of All Time. City Lights made the cut (at number 10, if I'm not mistaken) and AFI aired a clip of the late Jack Lemmon commenting on how much he loved the film, specifically the famous final scene. Lemmon choked up just talking about.

Everything about the finale is perfection. Usually, when a film makes you cry, it's out of sadness. Something tragic that has happened to the film's hero. City Lights is part of the small percent of Hollywood classics that make you cry tears of happiness. Even if you've never seen a Chaplin film, please do yourself the favour and watch the clip. It never ceases to amaze me, every time I watch it.


  1. Aw, one really can see that you love that scene. It sounds beautiful.

    I see that the whole film is on YouTube, so I will save that last scene for the moment when I've watched the rest of City Lights as well. ;)

  2. Yes, if you haven't seen it yet, watch that scene as part of the whole film. The impact will be that much greater. :)