CITY LIGHTS, the most cherished film by Charlie Chaplin, is also his ultimate Little Tramp chronicle. The writer-director-star achieved new levels of grace, in both physical comedy and dramatic poignancy, with this silent tale of a lovable vagrant falling for a young blind woman who sells flowers on the street (a magical Virginia Cherrill) and mistakes him for a millionaire. Though this Depression-era smash was made after the advent of sound, Chaplin remained steadfast in his love for the expressive beauty of the pre-talkie form. The result was the epitome of his art and the crowning achievement of silent comedy.
“Charlie Chaplin, master of screen mirth and pathos, presented at the George M. Cohan last night before a brilliant gathering his long-awaited non-dialogue picture, CITY LIGHTS, and proved so far as he is concerned the eloquence of silence…. Mr. Chaplin arrived in the theatre with a police guard, and after greeting some of his many friends in the house he took an aisle seat…. It was a joyous evening. Mr. Chaplin's shadow has grown no less.” —Mordaunt Hall, New York Times (Feb 7, 1931) “Nobody in last evening’s enthusiastic, swanky audience at the George M. Cohan theatre’s premiere, missed dialogue at all. We never even gave it a thought! As Charlie introduces his picture to its perusers, there’s a grand opening shot. Mr. Chaplin burlesques the talkies. How does he do it? Well, we’re asked not to reveal any of the gags — and you wouldn’t want us to — so we won’t tell! Enough to say that this gets CITY LIGHTS off to a screaming start, and it’s delirious all the way through – except for, or perhaps we should say, including the teary moments.” —Irene Turner, New York Daily News (Feb 7, 1931) “If only one of Charles Chaplin's films could be preserved, CITY LIGHTS (1931) would come the closest to representing all the different notes of his genius. It contains the slapstick, the pathos, the pantomime, the effortless physical coordination, the melodrama, the bawdiness, the grace, and, of course, the Little Tramp — the character said, at one time, to be the most famous image on earth.” —Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (Dec 21, 1997)