Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #68
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill
There's basically two kinds of Charlie Chaplin movies, from what I've gathered from the four I've seen. There's those that are honest-to-God funny and still earn laughs when watched in 2011, and then there's those that you watch to understand and appreciate the humor and the filmmaking but don't actually laugh at. Movies like The Gold Rush and especially The Great Dictator fall under the former category, while much of City Lights for me fell under the latter. Yeah, I get that Chaplin was stubbornly making a silent film fairly deep into the era of talkies, insisting that his humor would communicate best in that medium, and in a lot of ways he was right. The Little Tramp act works brilliantly in a silent film. But where at least a few parts of The Kid had me laughing, City Lights felt a lot like a history lesson.
The film follows the Little Tramp character as he meets a poor blind girl who believes he's a millionaire and eventually finds himself needing to pay her rent to save face. He ends up entering a boxing match, which has some of the best physical comedy moments of the movie but still pales in comparison to Chaplin's older silents in a lot of ways. As with many of his films, most of the action takes place in the last fifteen minutes or so, so much that keeping up is almost a chore. The climax is relatively satisfying, but I dunno. I think maybe I've just been in such a film-watching overload this weekend that I just wasn't that impressed by this movie. I like Chaplin, but I'm somewhat baffled by how highly this one is regarded in his canon. The comedy's not quite there all the time, but the pathos generally is, and the ending is typically perfect as with most Chaplin films. I just didn't like it as much as I should have. Nor do I have as much to say about it as I should. I'd love for a film scholar to set me right, because I know this is one of the all-time greats. I just missed something.
The Good: The melodrama (yeah, I'm complimenting melodrama) with the poor blind woman needing money to make rent and for her eye surgery is deftly executed and garners the right amount of sympathy.
The Bad: Only chuckled once, and, well, isn't City Lights a comedy?
The Skinny: 68th is ridiculous. 250th would be okay, but not 68th.