Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp meets Virginia Cherrill as the blind flower seller in City Lights.
Movies started talking in 1927, but Charlie Chaplin wouldn't hear of that for his 1931 classic, City Lights.
And in that era, Chaplin wielded enough power to get his way. But we do hear Chaplin as the composer of the score to the film that plays at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. Wednesday as part of the Kentucky Theatre's Summer Classics series. Admission is $3.
How could the Tramp talk? He was an icon of the silent film era, introduced in the 1914 feature Kid Auto Races in Venice. He was a poor, bumbling soul with a heroic streak and hope for a better life that appeared in a total of 15 films including The Kid (1921) and The Gold Rush (1925).
City Lights was the definitive film about the little guy. In it, he is a vagrant who falls in love with a blind flower seller. But upon their first meeting, she takes him for a millionaire, and the Tramp tries to keep up the charade, including trying to raise the money for the flower seller to have an operation that would restore her sight.
The scene where their eyes meet, and she discovers the truth, is one of the great tear-jerker moments in cinema history.
That's why it is somewhat surprising to find that Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill, who played the flower seller, did not like each other and were at odds the day that iconic scene was shot. Chaplin even attempted to reshoot City Lights with his Gold Rush co-star Georgia Hale, but it was not economically feasible. There is footage of Hale as the flower seller in the DVD release of City Lights.
Chaplin did give the film a voice through his score, including some effects in one moment that mimicked speech. He was ultimately successful in bringing the Tramp to the screen one more time in 1936 with Modern Times. It was a partially silent film, though in the end, the tramp does utter some gibberish and non-English phrases.