Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
City Lights (1931)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Mansion:

Arm in arm, the millionaire escorted his new-found friend from the harbor, under the watchful eye of a policeman. They returned to his elegant mansion, where the millionaire asked his snooty Butler (Allan Garcia) named James: "Any news?" The millionaire was told that his wife had sent for her baggage following their divorce or separation. In disgust, he hurled his wife's photograph from the top of the liquor cabinet before offering his new buddy the Tramp a few strong toasts to their "friendship", although most of the contents of two bottles of alcohol ended up down the front of the Tramp's pants. The Tramp realized that the Butler detested him for attempting to sit on the sofa. The Tramp also began to feel the effects of the alcohol and stumbled over to a piano to play, fell forward and hit his head on the keyboard.

As they sat in the living room, the millionaire became depressed about his marital situation after being reminded by the Butler's news, and again attempted suicide by reaching for a revolver in a cabinet drawer. The Tramp grabbed his arm and prevented a second suicidal attempt on his life. The millionaire brightened up, shouted out: "I'll live," hugged the Tramp, and suggested that they go out to a night club together: "James - the Rolls Royce. We'll burn up the town!" They dressed to go out on the town to celebrate.

Out on the Town:

The two well-dressed drunken gentlemen, with identical formal clothes, top hats, tails and canes, entered a crowded dinner and dance nightclub together. The Tramp slipped on the highly-polished dance floor as they were led to a table. A cigarette lady sold them cigars to smoke - followed by the Tramp's misbehaviors that caused a series of unfortunate incidents. He set fire to a lady's dress who sat down on his discarded cigar butt, after which she was squirted with seltzer water to put the fire out.

In a hilarious spaghetti-confetti sequence, he confused the strands of spaghetti on his plate with the strings of streamers which came floating down from the ceiling. He found himself helplessly sucking upward on an endless strand of noodle.

A brief floor show - a choreographed "Apache dance" - was conducted by two dancers for the seated audience.

[Note: The highly-dramatic, non-PC "Apache dance" was a choreographed performance that was very popular in Paris during the 1920s Jazz Age. It was originally created by underground Parisian street gangs, and was dubbed La Danse Apache to signify its savage and ferocious nature - an unfortunate stereotype derived from a tribe of Native-American Indians.]

The dance deliberately portrayed the abuse of a prostitute by her male pimp (acted out but entirely realistic), who pursued her as she hid her money in her garter. He slapped her face and then strangled her. As he violently pulled at her hair and shook her head, she struggled and fought back by grabbing his face. He took three steps forward and three steps backward as he pounded her into the floor. Then he lifted her up and tossed her clear across the floor. The drunken Tramp, who thought the theatrical dance was real, attempted to interrupt and save the female dancer when he assumed that she was being abused by her brutish male partner. He was restrained and calmed down.

Soon after, the rhythmic beat of the dance music also possessed the Tramp. First, he passionately and wildly whirled an unsuspecting woman around on the dance floor - the same woman whose dress he had set on fire earlier. And then he grabbed a waiter with a food tray held precariously high above his head as his partner. Exhausted by the energy he had expended, he fell stiffly backward, collapsing into the arms of the millionaire.

Early Morning - Homeward Bound:

After their long night at the dance-dinner club, as the early dawn light illuminated the empty streets, the two fast friends recklessly zig-zagged home in the millionaire's Rolls-Royce, driven by the millionaire. They crossed over sidewalks, and narrowly avoided other cars. The Tramp reprimanded his companion for his dangerous driving: "Be careful how you're driving," but received a reproach: "Am I driving?"

Come In, Get Out, Come In:

They arrived back at the mansion, where the Tramp gave his opinion of the Rolls-Royce: "I like your car." To his surprise, he was offered the luxury vehicle: "Then keep it, it's yours." The butler refused entry to the Tramp and pushed him out onto the front steps. The Flower Girl happened to be passing by. At his millionaire friend's orders ("Let him in, he's my guest!"), the butler fetched the Tramp and allowed him in the front door. The Tramp suggested buying flowers, and was lent a wad of bills by the millionaire.

The Tramp ran after the Flower Girl who was further down on the sidewalk and - with the real millionaire's money - bought up her whole basket of stock for ten dollars consisting of two large bouquets. He gave her two paper bills: "Here's ten dollars." When she replied: "I haven't any change, sir," he refused the change and then thrust a third bill into her hands. He escorted her, arm in arm, down the sidewalk to the mansion entrance. where the disapproving butler was standing. He ordered James to take the bouquets inside, and then drove her away in the rich man's car - he literally became the kind and wealthy person she imagined with the money and automobile in his possession.

As they pulled up in front of her home, a cat was seen sitting on a high windowsill. As he led her to her stairway and kissed her hand, she thanked him for his many kindnesses and he asked: "May I see you home again?" The blind girl responded: "Whenever you wish, sir." Once again, she was infatuated by his attention to her, now mistakenly convinced that he was a real millionaire. He was content to let her believe that he was very rich. As he smelled the boutonniere, the cat from above knocked a flowerpot on his head, but he was so love-struck that he shrugged off any hurt.

Yearning for her, he climbed up and stood on a large, tipsy rain barrel to get another glimpse of her after seeing her appear in her second floor window. The blind girl's fat downstairs neighbor (Henry Bergman) caught him peeping and startled him. The barrel toppled over and water flooded down onto the neighbor as the Tramp scampered away to the nearby parked Rolls and drove off.

This Time, Stay Out:

The next title card described the schizophrenic nature of the Tramp's friendship with the millionaire:

"The sober dawn awakens a different man."

The Tramp returned to the millionaire's mansion in the Rolls, but the eccentric millionaire by now had sobered up, and couldn't remember anything at all of what had happened. He had to be drunk to recognize the Little Tramp, and treat him in a friendly and supportive manner.

After the Tramp rang the doorbell - with the push of his cane's tip, the millionaire instructed his butler to pretend that no one was home: "I'm out to everybody!" The front door was slammed on the Tramp, and he was pushed out by the butler. The millionaire instructed his butler again: "Whoever he is, get rid of him!" The butler forcibly tossed the Tramp out - and he had no choice but to depart with confusion, sadness and disappointment.

Immediately destitute, the Tramp trailed a gentleman (W.C. Robinson) down the street in the borrowed luxury Rolls for his discarded cigar butt. He lept from the fancy vehicle to elbow an astonished bum (John Rand) away from the discarded item. When he returned the vehicle back to the front of the mansion, the sobered-up millionaire was icy and cold and wanted nothing to do with the Tramp, and curtly drove off in the car.


With her grandmother, the Blind Flower Girl mused and daydreamed about her 'millionaire' friend, and told her grandmother about her marvelous experience: "...and then he brought me home in his car." Her grandmother thought: "He must be wealthy," and the Girl replied: "Yes, but he's more than that."

That Afternoon, and The Party:

The Tramp again met the drunken millionaire on one of the city's sidewalks outside the nightclub entrance, who now welcomed his "friend" again with open arms, hugs, and a hearty handshake - and even a full-on kiss. He promised to arrange a "swell party" in his friend's honor. The Tramp insisted on driving to the mansion, to avoid another near-accident. During the Party, with chaotic dancing, smoking, drinking and dining, the tipsy Tramp mistook a bald man's (Buster Brodie) head for fancy ice cream or a cream pudding. When he was offered real pudding, he dismissed it. And then he swallowed a whistle, a party favor. With an attack of hiccups, he whistled with each spasm. After he stepped outside to avoid distracting the other guests and sat on a garden bench, he first hailed a taxi, and then was surrounded by a wild assortment of dogs.

The Morning After:

Morning brought an unpleasant awakening. The Tramp found himself sharing a warm double bed with the millionaire, who woke up sober and didn't recognize him at all. Once again, the millionaire ruthlessly ordered his butler to throw the Tramp out of the mansion. The millionaire was planning an ocean voyage on a Cunard Line cruise ship to Europe, leaving at noon. Just before he was tossed out the front door, on his way out, the Tramp neatly stole a banana from a fruit bowl in the living room. As he strolled away unperturbed, he pulled the banana from his back pocket and non-chalantly peeled the purloined banana and took a bite.

Disillusioned again, the Tramp tried to find the Blind Girl at her familiar street corner sidewalk location, but she was not there. Looking through her home's window, he learned that she was sick in bed - attended by a doctor (T.S. Alexander) and her grandmother. The doctor advised: "She has a fever and needs careful attention." The Tramp sat dejectedly on the stairs where he had earlier been hit with a falling flowerpot, to stand watch.

Determined to Help the Girl, The Tramp Found Work:

The Tramp found his true purpose in life and was determined to pay for a doctor and become her benefactor. He took a job as a street cleaner - a white-uniformed sanitary engineer (with a white hard hat), with a shovel and a trash barrel on a wheeled cart. Shuffling along on the street, he saw the natural remains of a horse-drawn cart - and shoveled up the small amount of manure. Then after walking toward a nearby intersection, he watched with amazed fright as a long procession of mules crossed in front of him. He turned away to avoid cleaning up after them, but then did a double-take when he went in the opposite direction and an elephant ambled down the street, part of a circus animal procession.

The grandmother shielded the ailing Girl from bad news after receiving a Final Notice of $22 rent due (by the next day's morning). They faced eviction from the dispossessing landlord who had signed the notice: M. B. Mint. The blind girl was hopeful: "Grandma, he's coming today!" But then she sensed her grandmother's trembling fear and asked: "Grandma, what's wrong?" She also added: "Grandma, I wish you'd meet him; you're never here when he calls."

At Lunch Time:

During his mid-day work break, while washing his hands next to a fellow laborer who was preparing a cheese sandwich, the Tramp accidentally swapped his bar of soap for a wedge of cheese, and then incriminated himself when he asked: "Have you seen the soap?" After eating the 'soap sandwich,' bubbles floated from the worker's mouth as he cursed the Tramp, who had changed out of his uniform. He was warned by the foreman (James Donnelly) about being back on time for his job.

Playing the Gentleman:

The Tramp realized that "to play the part of a gentleman without the millionaire was difficult, but he did his best." He took food to the girl at her home, delighted at being able to play the role of a wealthy breadwinner. The blind girl's Grandmother was not at home (she was out on the street corner selling flowers) when he called. The Tramp emptied the largesse from a paper bag - some fruit, a head of cauliflower (that looked like a giant boutonniere), and a plucked duck. The Tramp read to her from the newspaper about a Viennese eye specialist-surgeon in town, Dr. Gustav von Bier, who could cure her blindness. "Wonderful, then I'll be able to see you," she said, giving him some hesitation and cause for alarm. The gift of sight that he wished to give her might also cause her to realize his faked identity.

She asked him to hold the skein of yarn she was raveling up, and he joyfully helped her, but soon became increasingly concerned when he realized that she had somehow caught a loose thread from beneath his vest, and was slowly unraveling his long underwear. As he continued to talk to her, he squirmed and writhed as the threads from his underclothes slithered against his skin and he was slowly stripped of his undergarments. He shifted from side to side so that the unraveling wouldn't catch somewhere. Then, he feverishly pulled the thread out to feed it into her hands until there was nothing left. He hid the original skein of yarn, and then played a record on the Victrola.

He happened to discover the Final Notice about overdue rent when he opened a book, and she insisted that he read it outloud. She was immediately upset and began crying, but the Tramp confidently promised her: "Now don't worry. I'll pay it the first thing in the morning." He returned to his street-sweeping job, but lost it for being Late once too often. His employer fired him: "You're late for the last time! Get out!"

As the Tramp walked away, he passed the Boxers Entrance (in a side alleyway) to a boxing arena (where prize-fights were held), as a boxer enticingly asked: "Do you want to make some easy money?" Desperate to help the Blind Girl, to keep up pretenses of being rich, and to earn money to pay her overdue rent, the Tramp decided to inquire further about the man's suggestion.

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