The Story (continued)
City Lights (1931)
However, in "The Fight," things go awry when his boxing opponent Eddie Mason is warned in a telegram that the cops are after him and he runs off. He is replaced with a massive, muscle-bound substitute (Hank Mann) in a genuine contest. The terms of the $50 bout are agreed upon: winner takes all. The new prizefighter is alarmed by the Tramp's friendly overtures. Terrified of being beaten up, the Tramp watches a black boxer superstitiously worship a lucky horseshoe, and kiss and rub a rabbit's foot behind both ears. The Tramp imitates the boxer.
The new formidable, unbeatable boxer will not accept the Tramp's request: "Let's take it easy and we'll split fifty-fifty." Moments later, the black boxer is carried unconscious from his bout back into the dressing room - the charms of the lucky rabbit's foot and horseshoe obviously didn't work. The Tramp tosses away the two good-luck charms and tries to rub away any vestige of the rabbit's foot from his own ears.
The memorable boxing fight sequence is a masterpiece - a funny, choreographed ballet. The Tramp defensively dances around in the ring to avoid the palooka's punches, nimbly hiding and ducking for safety behind the tall referee, and slipping away from his opponent at one point to leave his opponent facing the referee. Later in the bout, the bell rope becomes wrapped around the Tramp's neck. When he is knocked down, the rope pulls on the bell and luckily, the round is declared over. But unfortunately, when he turns to go to his corner for a rest, the Tramp's movement rings the bell again, starting the next round. Before long, the Tramp is knocked out cold.
In "Still Hoping," the Tramp wanders through the city, still hoping to get money for the girl. The drunk millionaire reappears, just back from a trip to Europe. They are reunited and give each other a hearty embrace. The Tramp is invited again to the mansion, where robbers are in hiding, waiting to attack after catching a glimpse of the cash. The millionaire promises: "Now don't worry about the girl. I'll take care of her." The Tramp is given $1,000, the money needed for the blind girl's operation that will restore her sight. But just after stuffing the banknotes into his pocket, the robbers emerge and knock the millionaire out with a blackjack. When the Tramp summons the police by phone, the burglars flee.
When the police arrive, they naturally suspect the Tramp is the thief, and the ever-hostile butler accuses him of robbing his master: "He has been robbed, search that man!" The Tramp looks guilty, with $1,000 in his pocket. Arguing his case with the policeman, the Tramp forgets that he has the cop's gun in his hand that is effectively keeping the man back. Suddenly noticing the gun, he hands it back to the policeman - and then realizes his foolish mistake. He snaps his fingers, totally disgusted with himself. The schizophrenic, scowling millionaire, sobered up by the blow to his head, does not recognize him as his friend, asking: "Who is this man?" and accuses him of the robbery. The Tramp realizes he must 'steal' the money he has been freely given to again pose as a millionaire to save the Blind Girl. He snatches the wad of money, gets away, and rushes to the girl's home. Into her hands, he places all the money for rent and for a sight-restoring operation, even giving her $100 that he had saved in his pocket for himself. As he bids her farewell, he tells her that he will be going away for awhile. She again mistakenly believes, in her blindness, that he is her millionaire benefactor.
He is picked up by the police and arrested on the street corner. During the encounter with authorities, the Tramp drops his cane. One of the newsboys (the one who snatched his cane in one of the film's earlier scenes) picks up the Tramp's cane and hands it back to him. Just before being imprisoned with a nine-month prison sentence for the robbery, at the door of the prison, he takes one last puff on his cigarette and flips it over his shoulder, giving it one last dismissive kick with his heel.
It is now Autumn, in "Hope is Rewarded." The flower shop is now owned by the girl and her grandmother - they rearrange flowers inside the prosperous shop. The Blind Girl has had her sight restored with an operation - paid for by the Tramp's support. The bedraggled Tramp (without his cane now) has just been released from prison and is ambling down the street. Defeated by the prison experience, he slowly shuffles along the town's streets expecting to see the flower girl at her familiar sidewalk location. When a rich millionaire enters the store to purchase flowers, the girl is impossibly expectant and longing, hoping that her savior has returned to reveal himself. She tells her grandmother: "...I thought he had returned." Again on the sidewalk outside the flower shop, the tattered Tramp is the target of the newspaper boys' pea-shooter. Aggrieved by their bullying, he admonishes one of the boys to stop hurting him.
One of them grabs a piece of his shirt-tail sticking out through a hole in the seat of his ragged pants, when he bends down to pick up a discarded rose in the gutter. The boy tears off a piece of the cloth and holds it up. The Tramp snatches back the rag, pursues after the boys, kicks into the air after them, folds the cloth into a handkerchief, and then touches it to his nose. He then tucks the handkerchief into his pocket. The flower girl has been watching and giggling at the comic/tragic figure through the flower shop window.
When he notices the girl again through the shop window of her newly-opened shop, he is transfixed with wonder and joy, because she is the one that he loved and sacrificed himself for. He grins and beams at her with a melting smile. She turns and makes an ironic, laughing comment to her grandmother inside the shop: "I've made a conquest!"
The film's most simple, moving, eloquent and poignant finale is filled with melancholy and pathos. Although the Tramp tries to walk away and evade her, she stops laughing and pities him. Determined to help him, she calls him back and outside the shop, in a sympathetic act of charity, offers him a fresh white rose to replace the tattered, wilting one he picked up from the gutter. She also offers him a coin that she has just taken from the flower shop register.
When she takes his hand to press money into it, it suddenly dawns on her who he is. With her acute sense of touch, she recognizes the familiar feel of his hands. As she runs her hand up the ragged fellow's coat from his shoulder to his face, she realizes that he is her mysterious benefactor - a shabbily-dressed little vagabond. They recognize and see each other for the first time, reunited, face-to-face, the Tramp feeling many emotions at once - shame, fear, bravery, pain, tentativeness, love, bliss and joy. The camera captures emotionally-intense closeups of their faces. At first, she appears slightly dismayed and confused - he looks so completely different from what she expected - and then she is moved. The Tramp smiles and his eyes light up when she recognizes and accepts him for who he is.
Title cards and expressions tell the story in one of the classic climaxes in all of cinema history:
The Flower Girl: You?
The Tramp: (He nods in assent and smiles shyly, and then points to his eyes) You can see now?
The Flower Girl: (She nods and her smile widens) Yes, I can see now.
She grasps his hand to her breast. The Tramp stands frozen as he holds his finger to his mouth and places the gift of the flower between his teeth - it is a simple, meaningful gesture. The truth is revealed - she can 'see now' through his pretense - nothing more can be said. A question arises: How can she possibly love him, now that she can see him? Their social roles are now reversed in this face-to-face encounter - his identity has changed from a benevolent millionaire to a vagabond, impoverished Tramp. She has turned from a poor, Blind Girl into a prosperous beautiful woman.
The ethereal closeup of his radiant, smiling face fades to black.
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AMC Filmcritic's Review of City Lights