Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
During last year's Criterion Challenge, I finally saw my first Charlie Chaplin feature, The Idle Class and the short, The Circus. I was resoundingly unimpressed by either, but I was eager to go see City Lights in a midnight screening when it played at Baxter Avenue Theater in February, but that night I felt miserable and didn't make it. Having finally now seen the film, I'm even more annoyed that I missed that screening because I really enjoyed it.
There are two key aspects that did not work for me, though. First and foremost is the Viennese doctor who could "cure" blindness. I'll grant that the nuances of ophthalmology are more complex than a slapstick comedy can generally afford to navigate and that A Blind Girl's condition may actually have been treatable at the time, etc. It's *possible*. But presenting a "cure for blindness" rankled me just the same, as no such thing exists even now, 82 years later.
The other issue, of course, was An Eccentric Millionaire. That guy very clearly has some serious mental health issues and it pains me to see those kinds of things played for laughs. However, I have to admit that, whether because of the way Harry Myers played him or because of how Chaplin shot the picture, I recognized in this character something of myself. If I had the kind of money to indulge my whims that this guy had, my melancholy and spontaneous needs for excitement would very likely play out just as his did. I can't, therefore, in good conscience condemn An Eccentric Millionaire as a character who only undermines mental health patients like myself.
The relationship between the Tramp and the aforementioned Blind Girl is predictable, but that final scene is such a sweet payoff that it works. What I found really spot-on here, though, is the slapstick. Slapstick wears thin for me quickly if not done well, and I give Chaplin credit for having a keen awareness of pace. One of my chief complaints about The Idle Class and The Circus is that a lot of the physical humor was tediously repetitive.
Here, though, gags don't often outlive their cleverness. I got a laugh out of the Tramp appreciating a painting and statue in a storefront window, for instance, obliviously stepping all around an opening in the sidewalk behind him. Just when it could have easily become annoying, Chaplin does something different to keep it lively. Having gotten our laughs, he wraps it up and gets on with the narrative. It doesn't feel like filler here the way such scenes have felt in other movies, and that energy is a big reason why I think City Lights works so well.
How City Lights Entered My Flickchart
City Lights > The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad --> #791
I really need to revisit The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. I remember really enjoying it in my youth. My haziness about it costs it here, though, against the delightful City Lights.
City Lights < Far and Away --> #791
City Lights is both fun and sweet, but here I'm partial to Ron Howard's film about Irish-American immigrants. I love its energy, sweeping visuals, and (most of all) Nicole Kidman.
City Lights < Blood for Dracula --> #791
City Lights is the first Chaplin film I've really enjoyed, but I was more entertained by the gratuitous irreverence of Blood for Dracula.
City Lights > Charlie and the Chocolate Factory --> #692
I know I'm in the minority, but I liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a lot more than I ever liked Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. City Lights, however, was more enjoyable than either and it gets the nod here.
City Lights < Brief Encounter --> #692
City Lights was fun, but this round goes to Brief Encounter for its compelling relationship study and Celia Johnson's sympathetic performance.
City Lights < American Beauty --> #692
I'm still not the world's biggest American Beauty fan, but I've come around on it enough that I'm picking it here. City Lights is clever and fun, but also fairly vapid.
City Lights > House of Frankenstein --> #679
Universal Monsters > Charlie Chaplin for me in general, but here's a case where The Little Tramp wins a round. City Lights is a lot of fun, whereas House of Frankenstein is a second-tier Universal Monsters picture.
City Lights < The Natural --> #679
City Lights is delightful, but I love baseball and The Natural is one of the few baseball movies that are actually good movies.
City Lights < Jeepers Creepers II --> #679
City Lights showcases some of the sharpest slapstick I've yet seen, but watching the Creeper terrorize a school bus in a cornfield was a whole lot of fun.
City Lights > Barbershop 2: Back in Business --> #677
I loved Barbershop (it would beat both of these), but its sequel wasn't as satisfying. This one goes to Chaplin.
City Lights Entered My Flickchart at #677/1582