AFI Movie Club: CITY LIGHTS – American Film Institute
City Lights Film Still - Charles Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill



CITY LIGHTS ranks #1 on the American Film Institute’s 10 Top 10 list of the art form’s greatest romantic comedies, and has appeared six times on AFI’s lists of the greatest American films – including #11 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies – 10th Anniversary Edition. AFI also named the film’s star and director Charlie Chaplin #10 among cinema’s greatest screen legends of all time! 

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CITY LIGHTS – Reelgood

In this exclusive clip from the AFI Archive, Buck Henry talks about CITY LIGHTS:


 Movie Trivia About A SINGLE MAN


The film was the hardest production of Charlie Chaplin’s career. It took two years to complete, and Chaplin spent $1.5 million of his own money – the equivalent of nearly $25 million today! 


Charlie Chaplin was not in favor of the burgeoning sound technology in film, and he believed it limited actors’ gestural expressions and comedic impact. CITY LIGHTS began as a completely silent production in 1928, but sound was so popular by its conclusion in 1931 that Chaplin was forced to add a musical soundtrack. 


CITY LIGHTS marked the first time Charlie Chaplin included sound sequences, but it took another decade for him to make his first “talkie” with dialogue in 1941. It was titled THE GREAT DICTATOR. 


Virginia Cherrill was an unknown actress when she was cast as “A Blind Girl” in CITY LIGHTS, but she starred in three other 1931 releases. Four years later, Cherrill became Cary Grant’s first of five wives, but their marriage only lasted seven months.  


Charlie Chaplin was a founding member of United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D. W. Griffith. The studio was formed to give artists more control over their films. However, Chaplin was dissatisfied with UA’s handling of CITY LIGHTS and distributed the picture himself. 


The premiere of CITY LIGHTS at the Los Angeles Theater marked the first time a movie debuted in downtown LA instead of in Hollywood. Charlie Chaplin attended the gala with Albert Einstein! 


CITY LIGHTS grossed $400,000 in its first 12-week run at one theater in New York City, making it one of the top moneymaking films of 1931.   

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-Charlie Chaplin was not in favor of sound technology, believing that it limited an actor’s gestural communication, but he was forced to adapt the film to sound because it was more popular with audiences at the time of the film’s release in 1931. However, Chaplin makes fun of sound technology in CITY LIGHTS. Can you describe some of these gags? 

-Charlie Chaplin’s delightful yet hapless personality “The Tramp” embodied many paradoxes of daily life during World War I and The Great Depression, but it remains one of the most popular and recognizable comedic characters to this day. Does the “The Tramp” make you laugh? What parts of “The Tramp’s” story in CITY LIGHTS were familiar to you? 

-In the century since “The Tramp” first graced screens, where have you seen its influences on other iconic characters and films? 

-Charlie Chaplin refused to continue “The Tramp” in sound films and retired the character in 1936 at the end of MODERN TIMES, which is often referred to as the last silent film (despite its sound sequences). Do you think “The Tramp” would be as entertaining if you could hear him speak? 

-The final scene of CITY LIGHTS has been hailed as one of the greatest moments in cinematic history. How did you feel while watching this tender moment, and what visual or narrative cues resonated with you? Why do you think the moment is so celebrated? 

-How would you rate CITY LIGHTS? 

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