When it comes to selecting a favorite among the sublime works of Charlie Chaplin, I can narrow it down to three features: THE GOLD RUSH (1925), CITY LIGHTS (1931), and MODERN TIMES (1936). Out of those, my favorite is whichever one I saw last, and for now the favor falls on CITY LIGHTS.
Released when talkies were already firmly grounded, Chaplin's last silent production was a staunch holdout in the face of the new technology and thankfully so, for CITY LIGHTS stands today as one of the most eloquent examples of pantomimed cinema ever made. The simple story about a blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill in a beautiful performance) who falls in love with a tramp whom she mistakes for her benefactor, forms the backbone on which Chaplin constructs some of his funniest and most poignant moments. The film is both parts comedy and romance, and shows us most exquisitely that true love can indeed be blind.
Criterion's Blu-ray/DVD combo release of this ageless classic is glorious in image/audio quality. The film, scanned at 4K from two 35mm dupe negatives has never looked better, preserving a pleasing grain consistency and perfect tonal range. Details in textures and backgrounds are also flawlessly reproduced in HD. The audio is undistorted and completely hiss free; I especially like how dynamic the music sounds in the main title and boxing sequence.
The extra features (available in both formats) include a commentary by Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance, a 2003 documentary on the film's making, a piece on Chaplin's visual design, archival footage from the production of CITY LIGHTS (a costume test, a rehearsal, a complete unused scene), an excerpt from Chaplin's 1915 short THE CHAMPION, trailers, and a booklet with an essay by critic Gary Giddins and a 1966 interview with Chaplin.
CITY LIGHTS is silent film comedy at its absolute finest, as well as a deeply moving cinematic poem from a genius craftsman of the medium.
My highest recommendation.