After the tramp (Charlie Chaplin) meets a blind flower girl, he instantly falls in love. As he goes to spend the night sleeping rough at the docks he saves a drunken millionaire from committing suicide.
The millionaire thanks the tramp by offering him use of the car, and the tramp is able to become the young girl's benefactor. When the millionaire recovers from his drunkenness he denies all knowledge of the tramp forcing the tramp to find other means to keep his new love's family financially afloat.
Completed in 1931, City Lights bucked the trend where the industry was converting to sound movies and indeed, Chaplin was urged by his producers to change his mind about shooting the silent film. Such was Chaplin's popularity at the time he was able to overrule his superiors and his bravery was rewarded with what is considered to be his greatest film.
City Lights is a shining example of everything that has kept Chaplin famous to this day. His trademark slapstick pantomime is funny throughout and, while often overdone, it can be considered occasionally subtle as Chaplin draws attention to the comedic moments through his movement rather than voice.
Despite being a comedy at heart, City Lights shows a softer side to the tramp who gives up everything he could possibly get from the millionaire in order to take care of a lady that can't even see him. As his actions land him in further predicaments it becomes inevitable that the audience is left wondering whether the tramp will actually have a happy ending.
Of course, with only a limited cast a special mention should also be made to both Virginia Cherril and Harry Myers for being both an excellent supporting cast but also for enabling Chaplin to cleverly show both the comedic and sentimental sides of his character.
As with any silent movie the soundtrack is arguably as important as the picture and in City Lights I am taken back to my childhood; it is clear to see where certain Looney Tunes cartoons get their inspiration from as they combine musical scores with occasional sound effects to create a highly exaggerated comedy. In City Lights, the musical score is simply superb and, unlike other silent movies, isn't at all repetitive.
You should watch this even if you've already seen a silent pantomime and hated it - imitators can never match Chaplin's original gags.