Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
City Lights (1931)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

That Night - The Fight:

In the locker room of the Main Street Arena, the Tramp had entered a fixed boxing contest by making an agreement with his stand-in crook-opponent Eddie Mason (Eddie McAuliffe) that he wouldn't be hurt. Their agreed-upon fixed plan to benefit both of them was to split the purse 50-50 following the match. To avoid detection, the stand-in urged: "Be careful, the boss might hear us." Things went awry when the Tramp's stand-in boxing opponent was warned by telegram that the cops were after him ("GET OUT OF TOWN. THE COPS ARE AFTER YOU"), and he dressed quickly to flee. At the exit door, he told the boss: "I've got to beat it, boss."

The boss recruited a massive, muscle-bound substitute Prizefighter (Hank Mann) to take Eddie's place, offering him a $50 dollar purse with "winner take all" terms. The Tramp was told: "You'll fight him," and he began to get worried. The new prizefighter was alarmed by the Tramp's friendly smiles and effeminate gestures, and offer to light his cigarette. Now terrified of being beaten up, the Tramp watched a Superstitous black Boxer (Victor Alexander) worshipping a lucky horseshoe and kissing and rubbing a lucky rabbit's foot behind both ears. The Tramp imitated the boxer.

The new formidable, unbeatable boxer would not accept the Tramp's request of leniency: "Let's take it easy and we'll split fifty-fifty." Instead, he insisted: "Winner take all." Moments later, the Superstitous boxer was 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 tossed away the two good-luck charms and tried to rub away any vestige of the rabbit's foot from his own ears. He was further unnerved and became weak-kneed when the victorious Boxer (Tony Stabenau) from the most recent bout was knocked out with one bare-handed punch by the aggravated Prizefighter - his own upcoming opponent.

The memorable boxing fight sequence was a masterpiece - a funny, choreographed ballet. During the first round, the Tramp defensively danced around in the ring to avoid the palooka's punches, nimbly hiding and ducking for safety behind the tall Referee (Eddie Baker), and often sneaking in a few punches by dodging out from behind the referee. He often bear-hugged the Prizefighter in a close clinch, making it impossible to be hit. He was able to score a remarkable number of punches, but was unable to push his opponent's shoulders down to get him to fall. He also propelled himself into the midsection of his opponent to knock the wind out of him, but also downed the referee with the same tactic.

Between the first and second rounds, the Tramp imagined the Blind Girl attending to him in his corner seat, and then realized he was kissing the hand of his cornerman. During the second round, the Tramp continued to weave and dodge, and hide behind the referee, to confuse his opponent. A few times by mistake, the Referee was punched by the prizefighter. At one point, both contenders were knocked out simultaneously, but both were able to struggle to their feet in time before a 10-count to avoid defeat. When the bell rope became wrapped around the Tramp's neck and he was knocked down, the rope pulled on the bell and luckily, the round was declared over. But unfortunately, when he turned to go to his corner for a break between rounds, the Tramp's movement rang the bell again, starting the next round. A few moments later, the Tramp was knocked out cold and given the 10-count.

Still Hoping To Get Money For the Girl:

"Still hoping to get money for the girl, he wandered the city." Outside a theatre entrance, the drunk millionaire reappeared, just back from a trip to Europe. The two were reunited and gave each other hearty embraces (and kisses). The Tramp was again invited to the mansion in a chauffeured car, where burglars (Albert Austin and Joe Van Meter) were in hiding in a living room closet as they arrived. While they drank champagne nearby, the millionaire assuredly promised: "Now don't worry about the girl. I'll take care of her. Will a thousand dollars be enough?" It was the amount of money needed for the blind girl's operation that would restore her sight. The Tramp reacted with excitement and kissed the millionaire. As he was handed the banknotes and stuffed them into his pocket, the Tramp noticed a gun on the floor in front of him - the one the millionaire had contemplated using to commit suicide. The robbers were watching and had caught a glimpse of the cash. As the Tramp hid the gun in a desk cabinet, one of the robbers knocked the millionaire out cold with a blackjack. After a brief chase around the room, the Tramp phoned for the police, causing the burglars to flee. The ever-hostile butler entered the living room and assumed that the Tramp had assaulted the millionaire who was lying on the floor.

When a single policeman arrived on the scene, he naturally suspected that the Tramp was the thief when the butler accused him of robbing his master: "He has been robbed, search that man!" The Tramp looked extremely guilty with $1,000 in his pocket. Arguing his case with the policeman, the Tramp forgot that he had been handed the cop's gun that was effectively keeping them back. Suddenly noticing the gun, he handed it back to the policeman - and then realized his foolish mistake. He snapped his fingers, totally disgusted with himself. When asked: "Where did you get this money?", the Tramp didn't provide a credible answer and tried to confirm the millionaire's gift ("Tell him you gave me that money") after the schizophrenic, scowling millionaire sobered up by the blow to his head. Of course, the millionaire did not recognize him as his friend and asked: "Who is this man?" The Tramp realized that he must 'steal' the money he had been freely given to again pose as a millionaire to save the Blind Girl. He snatched the wad of money, ran away after turning out the lights, and directed a group of cops into the house as he fled.

He rushed to the girl's home, and placed all the money for rent and for a sight-restoring operation into her hands, even giving her a $100 banknote that he had saved in his pocket for himself. As he bid her farewell ("I must be going"), she asked: "How can I ever thank you?"; he replied that she needn't do anything, and kissed her hand. When she heard him leaving, she became frantic: "You're not going away?", he nodded and told her: "For awhile." She again entreated him: "But you're coming back!" He promised her that he would. He had again confirmed for her - mistakenly, that he was her millionaire benefactor.

On the downtown street corner, he was apprehended by plainclothes policemen and handcuffed. During the encounter with authorities, the Tramp dropped his cane. One of the newsboys (the one who snatched his cane in one of the film's earlier scenes) picked up the Tramp's cane and handed it back to him. Just before being imprisoned with a nine-month prison sentence for the robbery, at the door of the prison, he took one last puff on his cigarette and flipped it over his shoulder, giving it one last dismissive backward kick with his heel.

Hope is Rewarded:

Calender pages flipped during a transition, and a title card indicated that it was now Autumn. The flower shop was now owned by the girl and her grandmother - they were rearranging flowers inside the prosperous shop, and had even hired an Assistant (Leila McIntyre). The Blind Girl was no longer blind after her sight was restored with an operation - paid for by the Tramp's support.

The bedraggled Tramp (without his cane now and ripped pants) had just been released from prison and was ambling down the street. Defeated by the prison experience, he slowly shuffled along expecting to see the flower girl at her familiar sidewalk location - but she was missing.

When a rich, well-dressed millionaire with a top hat entered the store to order some flowers, the girl was impossibly expectant and longing, hoping that her savior had returned to reveal himself, but she was visibly disappointed. After her grandmother asked: "Why, what's the matter, child?", she responded: "Nothing, only I thought he had returned."

On the sidewalk at the street corner where he had been arrested, the tattered Tramp again became the target of the newspaper boys' pea-shooter. Aggrieved by their bullying, he pointed at them and admonished one of the boys to stop bothering him. One of them grabbed a piece of his shirt-tail sticking out through a hole in the seat of his ragged pants, when he bent down to pick up a discarded rose in the gutter. The boy tore off a piece of the cloth and held it up. The Tramp snatched back the rag, pursued after the boys, kicked into the air after them, folded the cloth into a handkerchief, and then touched it to his nose. He then tucked the handkerchief into his pocket.

The flower girl had been watching from the storefront window of her corner store and giggling at the comic/tragic figure. When he noticed the girl again in her newly-opened shop, he was transfixed with wonder and joy, because she was the one that he loved and sacrificed himself for. He grinned and beamed at her with a melting smile. She turned and made an ironic, laughing comment to her grandmother inside the shop: "I've made a conquest!" She noticed that the dead and wilting rose in his hand was dropping petals. Determined to help him, in a sympathetic act of charity, she offered him a fresh white rose to replace the tattered, wilting one he had picked up from the gutter. She also offered him a coin that her grandmother had just taken from the flower shop register. Although the Tramp tried to scurry away and evade her, she exited her shop's front door to pursue him on the sidewalk.

The film's most simple, moving, eloquent and poignant finale was filled with melancholy and pathos.

When she took his hand to press the coin into it, it suddenly dawned on her who he was. With her acute sense of touch, she recognized the familiar feel of his hands. As she ran her hand up the ragged fellow's coat from his shoulder to his face, she realized that he was her mysterious benefactor - a shabbily-dressed little vagabond. They recognized and saw 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 captured emotionally-intense closeups of their faces. At first, she appeared slightly dismayed and confused - he looked so completely different from what she had expected - and then she was moved. The Tramp smiled and his eyes lit up when she recognized and accepted him for who he was.

Title cards and expressions told the story in one of the classic climaxes in all of cinema history:

The Flower Girl: You?
The Tramp: (He nodded in assent and smiled shyly, and then pointed to his eyes) You can see now?
The Flower Girl: (She nodded and her smile widened) Yes, I can see now.

She grasped his hand to her breast. The Tramp stood frozen as he held his finger to his mouth and placed the gift of the flower between his teeth - it was a simple, meaningful gesture. The truth was revealed - she could 'see now' through his pretense - nothing more could be said or explained. A question arose: How could she possibly love him, now that she could see him? Their social roles were now reversed in this face-to-face encounter - his identity had changed from a benevolent millionaire to a vagabond, impoverished Tramp. She had turned from a poor, Blind Girl into a prosperous beautiful woman.

The ethereal closeup of his radiant, smiling face faded to black.

The End.

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