The Tramp wanders through an anonymous city and meets a fellow stray, a blind flower girl of Virginia Cherrill who through happenstance believes him a well-to-do citizen. Blindness remains the prevailing theme in the film, as the Tramp later comes upon an eccentric millionaire of Harry Myers drunk and bent on suicide.
The Tramp saves the millionaire from his alcoholic despair, and the millionaire responds with sumptuous entertainments and affection for his new friend. But when sober, the millionaire sees the Tramp as a waif and, having no memory of the night’s events, turns his new friend away. Likewise, the Tramp is drawn to the Flower Girl perhaps because she cannot see his poverty; he relishes her blindness, as she cannot judge him like so many others do
More than techniques or method, the magic of Chaplin’s work occurs onscreen when his elements of comedy, sentimentalism, choreography, and music come together. As the Tramp’s every gesture equates to an involved dance, his music underscores the ballet, his movements orchestrated with far reaching humanism that transcends demographics. Perhaps because Chaplin constructed City Lights from such personal origins, any viewer, no matter their language or country or moment in time, will be taken by the film, as the story’s simplicity and the presentation’s complexity render a poignant whole, in turn proving the effectiveness of silent filmmaking—the power of images.