Two great films have just come out on Blu-Ray, “City Lights” and “The Stranger.” Both Chaplin and Welles were genius’ but sometimes their films are overlooked. So, I am glad to see that these films are now able to be seen at their best. Read more about them below.
“City Lights” by Charlie Chaplin. This film is a tale of the Tramp character in the modern Metropolis. But this is not the carefree Tramp of the earlier films; he stumbles across a blind flower girl who gives him purpose in life. The scenes with the girl, Virginia Cherrill — Chaplin underwent an enormous struggle to get what turned out to be a perfect performance out of her — range from comedy to slapstick to pathos to tenderness. The final sequence, in which the now-seeing girl realizes that her benefactor is not some dreamed-of millionaire but poor Charlie, remains one of the most emotionally satisfying moments in the world cinema. Cherrill wasn’t much of an actress, but “City Lights” is a perfect role for her. Her second-biggest claim to fame: She was the first of the five Mrs. Cary Grants, for seven months anyway.
The comic centerpiece of the film remains the boxing match, a marvel of movement and choreography. Charlie, matched against a mountain of a man (Hank Mann), somehow manages to keep the referee between them. Mostly, anyway. This is a sequence which you really can’t watch just once. And speaking to Chaplin’s use of sound in non-talking pictures, he uses the timekeeper’s bell as a comic component of the bout.
“The Stranger” by Orson Welles
This is a favorite of mine. Every time I see it on TV I watch it. Welles is particularly good as the evil German and I like the story about this small town. I’m glad to see it come out on Blu-ray since the quality if so good.
There actually was a connection between the pair of genius actor/directors. Orson Welles came up with a screenplay in 1944 about a modern-day Bluebeard who marries wealthy widows and kills them off, based on the infamous Henri Landru (who murdered ten women during World War I). Chaplin considered the project but turned it down — he apparently couldn’t see himself taking direction from anyone, even Welles — but within a few years wrote, directed and starred in his own “Monsieur Verdoux” in 1947. (Welles received credit, and payment, for the idea.) Instead of the Landru movie, Welles made “The Stranger” [Kino] in 1946 — and if you listen closely, you will hear a rueful line about Landru.
“The Stranger” was Welles’ third film, following the classic “Citizen Kane” and the fascinating but artistically-compromised “The Magnificent Ambersons.” “The Stranger” is wonderful film noir, similar in tone and suspense to Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt”; it is also, we are told, the only Welles film to make a profit on its original release.
his relatively little-known film has always been a special pleasure, but the new Blu-ray makes a major difference in the viewing experience. “The Stranger” had unaccountably been allowed to lapse into the public domain in 1973; when the home video business was established a few years later, there was thus no owner to provide high-quality materials for transfer. As a result, the DVD market has been strewn with releases of indifferent quality. For this edition, Kino has joined with the Library of Congress, which had an original print of the film, to give us “The Stranger” as it was always meant to look.
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