Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Great Last Scenes: City Lights
Director: Charles Chaplin
Great Because...: how can you not want the Tramp to have a happy ending? Of all cinema's unlikely heroes, he is perhaps the unlikeliest and yet there he is, finally reaping the reward for his efforts to protect and care for the blind flower girl: her sight restored, she recognizes him as her benefactor and gives him a look of such tenderness that it's almost too much to bear. It is a perfectly acted and directed scene.
The Tramp has spent the film dividing his time between the antics of a drunken millionaire and the blind flower girl, who is on the verge of being evicted from her home along with her grandmother, and mistakenly believes that the Tramp is a millionaire. Putting the real millionaire's alcohol induced generosity to good use, the Tramp puts together the funds the blind girl will need not just for rent, but for an operation as well. However, when the millionaire is sober again, he's convinced that the Tramp has stolen from him and has him arrested.
Months later the Tramp is released from jail and the blind girl, sight restored, is once again selling flowers, this time from her own shop. She remains curious about the man who made her sight and her business possible but when the Tramp shows up outside her shop, she doesn't suspect that it might be him. It isn't until she hands him one of her flowers, touching his hand in the process and recognizing it, that she realizes who he is. His nervous smile and nod followed by her own tearful and uncertain look makes for a sweet and very satisfying ending.
The ending may sound manipulative and it is. Part of the reason why Chaplin's films work so well is that he makes no bones about the fact that's he's actively trying to manipulate you from emotional point A to emotional point B. Because he's so open about it, you don't hold it against him and so the moment doesn't seem too saccharine. Chaplin is of course well known for his physical comedy, but this quiet and very lovely moment between him and Virginia Cherrill is my favourite Chaplin moment.