City Lights (1931)
Directed By: Charlie Chaplin (The Circus; Modern Times)
Overview: When a tramp is smitten by a blind flower girl, he tries to help her through his ever-drunk millionaire friend.
Acting: Blind people. When they're funny, they're hilarious. I guess it's the handicap factor. People less fortunate are easier to laugh at, like the police. I won't go on about how awesome Chaplin is in his 80th film, because he's long ago been immortalized.
Cinematography: Did you know that Chaplin never had a script, just a basic idea? Like Jackie Gleason, he just had the basics worked out in his mind and he'd just do the rest on the fly. The only thing he had was a guy draw the scene for the set designers. Years later they called that 'storyboarding'. What an innovator.
Script: The romance is really well written. Just enough intertitles to know that there's the spark of love and the troubles of poverty. This lends a real weight behind the purpose of our impoverished clown. Mostly it's pantomime, as it should be, but the writing also shows the class differences and some nice character subtext, adding a real human drama element.
Plot: This story doesn't rush the pace. Yes, the pretty girl is the love interest, but most of this is the tramp and his millionaire friend, who has no idea who the tramp is when he's sober. With an ending that is perfectly rewarding, this story leaves you with the knowledge that this is not your typical Romantic Comedy. This is an honest and funny look at a genre that sadly became no more than a basic formula, and a detestable one at that. You can tell that this was not yet the case in the 20s.
Mood: When watching silent film, you might expect to run into clichés that were once original ideas. None of that here. This hasn't been rehashed to death like the banana peel gag, it's still fresh, and the laughs are terrific. From classic tramp slapstick to a healthy dose of realistic romance, this film will certainly keep you in the mood.
Overall Rating: 86% (Blindingly Funny!)
Aftertaste: So here I am, sort of fast-tracking my way along the silent films. I know that you all would rather read a review about a film that you loved, like Failure To Launch, but that just won't happen. So there I am going over my list, and I just had to stop and back up. Chaplin is so damned amazing I just had to detour and see all his best works. I mean it. If you haven't seen any of his silent stuff, pretty much anything that's got the tramp in it is gold. Gold!