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City Lights (1931) - Blu-ray Review

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City Lights - Blu-ray Review

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5 Stars

The critics said it couldn’t be done.  After the advent of sound in motion pictures, the silent film reels audiences loved before would be considered passé.  The success of Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer had changed all that.  People wanted “talkies” and producers always pay eagerly to give the people what they want.

While everyone was excited about sound, Charlie Chaplin – famed funnyman of the Silent Era – threw the advice his people were telling him about sound in motion pictures out the window, perfected his burlesque meets pathos storytelling and released City Lights.  But would audiences care anymore?  The Tramp seemed like a relic in the face of modern technology.  It’s only nostalgia others suggested.

Chaplin, used to taking risks, was ready for the criticism.  He embraced the idea of nostalgia and, with City Lights, placed his Tramp right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps.  It is a place where assumptions – wrong or right, but mostly wrong - rule the day.

In the film, a blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) mistakes the Tramp (Chaplin) for a wealthy businessman.  The police mistake him as a thief.  A drunk millionaire (Harry Myers), saved from suicide by the Tramp, embraces him but when he’s sober he hates his guts.  The assumptions go on from there.  The final assumption; however, is put on by the audience and that is that City Lights was the final note of The Tramp.

The release of a silent film during the early 1930’s seemed, to some, like a foolish endeavor.  To others, it was Chaplin listening to his ego again and not to common sense.  They were all – every criticism hailed at the maestro of sniffles and giggles – right in their thoughts processes.  Theaters around the nation had already converted to handle sound.  The silent pictures already in the can were getting new dubs.  The silent films already in production were shut down.

By 1928, the year City Lights went into its production, the end of the Silent Era was upon Hollywood.  Chaplin didn’t care.  He would not sacrifice his pantomime to an innovation that rendered his on-screen character anything less than larger than life.  He hated “talkies”; hated their power of influence, hated that they could make his work obsolete; hated their incessant noise.  And so he fought back.  City Lights begins with a great gag as a woman “talks” the sound of a mosquito buzzing is what is heard.  She yammers on and the noise gets louder.  She is disturbing the peace – exactly what Chaplin thought of sound in motion pictures.

And the audiences ate it up.  Absolutely they did and made it one of the biggest financial successes of Chaplin’s career.  Critics praised it, too.  Chaplin – again throwing caution to the wind – had two huge premieres for the film.  The applause and laughter from the crowds in the theater drowned out the “talkies” of the time.  It’s a good thing there was no sound.  It would have been lost from all the crowd’s responses.  City Lights, in a modern day viewing, continues to be a marvel and feels nothing at all like simple nostalgia.  This is a masterpiece of vision and character that brims with top-notch achievements.

Charlie Chaplin’s greatest achievement as actor, writer, director, composer, and producer, City Lights is one for the ages and is now available on Blu-ray from the fine folks at Criterion.

{2jtab: Film Details}

City Lights - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: This title has not been rated by the MPAA.
87 mins
: Charles Chaplin
: Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee
: Comedy
City Lights
Memorable Movie Quote: "Tomorrow the birds will sing."
Official Site:
Release Date:
March 7, 1931
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
November 13, 2013

Synopsis: The Tramp struggles to help a blind flower girl he has fallen in love with.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

City Lights - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
5 Stars

4 stars

Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - November 13, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.2:1
: None
English: LPCM Mono (48kHz, 24-bit)
50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

The film is presented in its theatrical 1.19:1 aspect ratio and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The transfer is pleasingly sharp (rather than razor-edged) in keeping with the film stock of its day, and the grayscale is admirably achieved with clean whites and fine black levels. Though one may detect a tiny nick here or a slight scratch there, and there is some slight deterioration to the right side of some of the intertitles, there are no major artifacts to distract from the viewing experience.  As far as the PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix goes, Criterion’s engineers have done a masterful job eliminating hiss, pops, crackle, and flutter from the transfer and leaving the film in likely its best ever audio shape.



  • Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance offers an enthusiastic commentary track that offers lots of anecdotal and analytical data in addition to occasionally telling us what we’re watching on the screen.

Special Features:

Things get started with a 41-page booklet that contains the cast and crew lists, a series of black and white stills, author/critic Gary Giddins celebration of Chaplin and his art, and Chaplin’s own article about his career penned in 1966.  The actual supplemental material on the disc includes a documentary about Chaplin, a look at the location and Chaplin’s utilitarian studio and how it worked for scenes.  There are several behind-the-scenes look at some of the scenes in the picture.

  • City Lights Today (27 min)
  • Chaplin’s Studio: Creative Freedom by Design (16 min)
  • From the Set of City Lights (20 min)
  • The Champion (9 min)
  • Charlie Meets Boxing Stars (5 min)
  • Theatrical Trailers (9 min)

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