City Lights   1931

Director: Charlie Chaplin

Main Characters/Players:

The Tramp: Charlie Chaplin
The Blind Girl: Virginia Cherril
Her Grandmother: Florence Lee
The Eccentric Millionaire: Harry Myers

Plot Summary:

As a new civil monument--a large statue--is unveiled, a tramp is discovered sleeping underneath the tarpaulin. After much indignation and silliness, he is chased off.

The tramp, our hero, wanders down the street, and encounters a blind flower girl. He buys a flower, and is smitten with love. Later that night the tramp meets an eccentric millionaire determined to commit suicide. The tramp saves him, goes home with him, gets drunk with him, and goes out to a dance hall with him. At daybreak, after driving the millionaire to his door, the tramp sees the flower girl and borrows the millionaire's car to take the girl home. Now she believes the tramp is actually a wealthy man.

The millionaire is sober when the tramp returns, and in his normal state he doesn't remember the tramp. Our hero is thrown out on his ear. Later on, and drunk again, the millionaire recognizes the tramp and hauls him home for a party. After a long, drunken celebration, everyone falls asleep. The millionaire wakes up sober and throws the tramp out a second time.

In the meantime, we learn that the flower girl has been sick. The tramp determines to get a job to help her. He becomes a street-cleaner, but the very day he loses that job, he learns that the girl and her grandmother are about to be evicted because they owe rent. He also learns of an operation that could cure her blindness. In a move of desperation, the tramp offers to box in a winner-take-all fight. He loses.

After the fight, he again meets the millionaire, who is fortunately quite drunk. The two go home together, and the tramp pours out his sad story to the millionaire, who gives him a thousand dollars. Then two thieves appear, and after a confused chase around the house, hit the millionaire on the head and leave. Having once again been forgotten by the sobered-up millionaire, and further having a thousand dollars in his pocket, our hero is nearly arrested for robbery. He escapes into the darkness and takes the money to the girl.

The girl pays her rent, gets the operation, and regains her sight. But the tramp is caught and put in jail. The girl sets up a flower shop on the very corner where the tramp was arrested, and waits, wondering when her "Prince Charming" will appear. At long last the tramp is released. He sees her, enters her shop, and after speaking, is at last recognized by her. "You?" she says, in a moment of truly painful discovery.


The humor of this story is that of water in the face, of holes in the pants, of shovelling manure, of drunkenness, of sitting down on cigars, of affected, dandified poverty trying to look rich, and of the desperation that clutches at all it can before it is thrown out. Chaplin's final denoument is a kind of frame-breaking device: in a silent film, the flower girl at last recognizes the tramp by hearing his voice. We, the audience, can only be drawn in to the revelation by imagination.

In the midst of his superb silliness, bravado, and skewered sentimentality, Chaplin--and Chaplin's camera--never loses sight of a larger picture: the barriers and links between the rich and the poor, the sharp distinction between our fantasies and reality. Until his exile for "communist" tendencies, he was one of America 's foremost artists.