Daddy Film School #5: CITY LIGHTS (1929)

Flying high off vampires and killer sharks, I decide to get them started on one of the giants of film – the little Tramp, himself — Charlie Chaplin.

For my money, this is Chaplin at his finest. Chaplin’s humor is raw and physical. He packs a punch in each boastful expression, every sideways glance.

City Lights also boasts the single greatest “final shot” in film history.


I want them to love this movie as much as I do. I want them to love Chaplin. I want them floored by his humor. I want to hear their hearts break when the tramp, with that crooked finger in his mouth, points at her eyes. “You can see…”

In my opinion, every romantic comedy made since 1929 is just chasing Chaplin and this movie. That enchanting scene. How Chaplin says volumes without saying a word.

That face. The one that fades to black, may be cinema’s single greatest expression of pure love and joy. It just may be that important.

Also, I love the discipline! Chaplin’s restraint as a director in that he says nothing after the scene. No afterword. No epilogue. He simply fades to black…and he trusts his audience to share in his truth.

The EXACT OPPOSITE of JK Rowling’s end to the otherwise flawless Harry Potter series.


With Daddy Film School still in its infancy, I worry that the stakes are just too high!

I talk myself into it, though. I have led dozens of teenagers in the act of falling in love with this movie…that moment.

But those were teenagers…they’re lovesick at the jump. These are middle graders. They’ll gag. I steel myself. It’s ok. Just don’t oversell it.

I oversell it. They’re unimpressed.

FINN: “Is this even a movie?”

THE WORRIES: What if they hate it (and go on to write the definitive work about how Buster Keaton is the superior silent comic and dedicate that best-seller to me, their dad?? Breathe, Joe, breathe!)?

THE LESSON: I overdo it. I talk through too much of the movie. I rewind the ending for them…twice (read: three times).

They got it. Kinda. They laughed at some parts. Not at others. The boxing scene tickles us all. It reaffirms me. Minutes later, though, they look bored. Their mothers comes in, and she looks bored. Why is everyone so stinkin’ bored? These people wouldn’t know delightful if it fell in their laps. Good damn them and their internets! Agh!

Then Chaplin scrapes a bald man’s head with a spoon, like it’s a melon, and they all fall to hysterics. Maybe the world isn’t so bad a place.


I had to explain blindness more than I expected.

FINN (9) SAYS: “Is that kind of eye surgery real?”

“No,” I say.

“That’s dumb. It should be real.”


Twenty minutes into the film, FINN ASKS: “Is this even a movie?”


And what about that final scene, eh? eh?

CHARLIE (11): “It was good.”

FINN: “Kissing girls makes me feel all e-GOO-ey!”

CHARLIE SAYS: “Chaplin is funny. I liked the part with the river. It had a good story, too. 3 stars.”

Up Next: I explained how Chaplin wrote all his own music for his movies. “What’s a score?” Hmmm…the possibilities…I need a iconic film score!!!


  1. Megan Brady says:

    This was one of my favorite movies we watched and discussed in our film institute class! My favorite silent film of all time! Thank you for helping me to appreciate silent films and The Tramp!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe Costal says:

      Thanks so much, Meg. Those film classes will always be among my favorite times at Oakcrest. I was so happy to share movies like this one with you guys.


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