City Lights, A Comedy Romance in Pantomime (1931)
Director: Charles Chaplin
Virginia Cherrill: Blind Flower Girl
Florence Lee: Her Grandmother
Harry Myers: An Eccentric Millionaire
Allan Garcia: His Butler
Hank Mann: A Boxer
Charles Chaplin: A Tramp
In 1927, The Jazz Singer was released, ushering in the era of talking pictures. By 1931, almost all films were talkies, yet Charlie Chaplin wasn't ready to give up the art of the silent film. This was his last fully silent film. Besides starring in it, he was also the producer, director, editor, screenwriter, and composed the score.
The two overlapping plots tell the story of the Little Tramp, who has fallen in love with a blind flower girl. Through a couple of odd circumstances, she believes he is very wealthy, and no one is around to tell her otherwise. Meanwhile, the Tramp saves the life of a suicidal, alcoholic millionaire. The millionaire befriends him "for life", but then only remembers the Tramp when he (the rich man) is drunk.
The film follows the Tramp's attempts to raise money to send the flower girl abroad to get an operation on her eyes. His efforts are both aided and confounded by his off-again, on-again friendship with the millionaire. The most memorable endeavor, though, is a rigged prizefight gone awry, resulting in an amazingly choreographed boxing scene.
This has been one of my favorite movies since I was 11. It's sweet and satirical, touching and slapstick, and and always beautifully made. The ending has been called one of the most poignant ever filmed. It doesn't have talking because it doesn't need talking. These are real actors, telling us everything through facial expressions, body language, and choreography. It's not completely silent, anyway. Chaplin's excellent musical score is accompanied by a variety of sound effects. The film opens with politicians giving blustery speeches, their voices represented by kazoos. This is a jab both at politicians and at the talking pictures Chaplin is shunning.
City Lights is one of the best examples of the power of silent film, and of movies in general. If you've never seen a silent movie before, this is an excellent introduction.