January 14, 2014  (Web Review)

City Lights

Criterion, 86 min., not rated, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $39.95

Reviewer rating: 4.0/4

In 1931, Charlie Chaplin was the lone holdout in the transition to talkies. Chaplin was determined not to let sound turn his Little Tramp into a talking hobo, so he defied convention and created the last silent film to come from a major American studio. In City Lights, the Little Tramp becomes the guardian angel of a blind flower seller (Virginia Cherrill), who imagines him to be a rich man, and through the dumb luck of saving the life of an inebriated millionaire (Harry Myers), the Tramp is able to pull off the deception—at least until his benefactor sobers up and forgets all about his drunken proclamations of friendship. Mixing slapstick complications with touching sentimentality, City Lights boasts the grace and invention that made Chaplin the most popular silent comic in the world. Although something of a rascal, the Little Tramp is mostly just a hard-luck guy trying to get along in the modern urban world, going through one situation after another with his trademark waddle and plucky earnestness. While the soundtrack features no dialogue, Chaplin did add a recorded score and sound effects. Mastered from a new 4K digital restoration Criterion’s new dual-format release (with both Blu-ray and DVD copies) is a superb-looking edition, with extras including new audio commentary by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance, a 2003 retrospective documentary, interviews, archival footage, and a booklet. A classic American comedy, this is highly recommended. Editor’s Choice. (S. Axmaker)