The Man Is a Tramp

Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931), from his own screenplay, will play in a new 35mm print at Film Forum from Tuesday, December 25, through Tuesday, January 1 (eight days). Show times are 1:30, 3:25, 5:20, 7:15 and 9:10. Its opening on Christmas Day marks the 30th anniversary of Chaplin’s death. As I wrote in 1999 in You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet: The American Talking Film, and as I still believe: “Today, the subject of City Lights is more clearly seen as the Tramp himself, precariously balanced between the domains of comedy and tragedy. Charlie is his own Don Quixote and his own Sancho Panza. A knight and a knave, a fool both damned and divine.

“A paradox in City Lights is the virtually equal weight given the theme of courtly love and male camaraderie. Indeed, one of the most interesting characters in the Chaplin canon is the rich man (Harry Myers) who embraces the tramp during their nocturnal revels, but who invariably forgets their association by the dawn’s ugly light when they have sobered up. Ultimately, Chaplin is the most satisfying of comedians because he is the most harmonious.” Is this film still funny after 76 years? I think and hope it is.