City Lights

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(1931, directed by Charlie Chaplin)

- inducted 2015 –

"Known as 'a comedy romance in pantomime,' the film is actually a bittersweet tragedy, and Chaplin’s genius knew it would only work the way it if it stayed a silent at a time when talkies had taken control of Hollywood for several years. It’s Chaplin’s greatest masterpiece, and its final scene with the Tramp smiling, and holding a flower near his mouth is one of the truly great moments in the entire history of the cinema, and one that brings tears as decisively as any film in any genre, from any country. Many of the earlier sequences at a park dedication, in a boxing ring, the scenes with the drunken millionaire who only knows him when he’s drunk, and a sequence when the Tramp swallows a whistle are as funny as anything Chaplin ever wrote, but it’s the humanism that elevates this. The film is told in the spare style of the classics, and is the result of what was purportedly Chaplin’s most painstaking work ever. The difficulty he had with the flower girl Virginia Cherill (who was nearly fired) is now legendary, as Chaplin played musical chairs with her employment on the film.

"The film encompasses everything we dream about when we go to the movies. Yes, the aforementioned final shot is one I would quickly identify as the most iconic of all-time, the one above all that moves us to the core of our being. What elevates it even further is the extraordinary lyrical and swelling score that Chaplin wrote himself for the film. Every movement in that sequence, the nod, the holding of the rose to the mouth, the flower girl completely devastated by the identity of her benefactor, holding her hand to her chest, and the realization that the smallest of men can move mountains in a life that is unpredictable at every turn. The cinema is over one hundred years old and it can hardly offer anything more magnificent than this transcendent work."

~ Sam Juliano

Principal cast: Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Al Ernest Garcia, Hank Mann, Jean Harlow (uncredited)
Screenplay by Charlie Chaplin, with uncredited contributions by Harry Clive and Harry Crocker
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Director of photography: Gordon Pollock, Rollie Tetheroh
Settings by Charles D. Hall
Original music by Charlie Chaplin
Film editing by Charlie Chaplin (uncredited), Willard Nico (uncredited)
Sound supervisor: Theodore Reed (uncredited)

USA
Duration: 87 minutes
Languages: Silent, with English-language titles
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Silent, Mono (musical score)
Aspect ratio: 1.20:1

Produced by Charles Chaplin Productions
Released in USA by United Artists
Premiered in Los Angeles, California on 30 January 1931

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1991
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 21 December 1997
- National Board of Review, 1931: One of the Top Ten Films of 1931