During one of my favorite jokes from City Lights, Charlie spies a cigar butt on the sidewalk while driving around in his millionaire friend’s luxury car. Charlie leaps from the car, grabs the butt before another bum can take it, and then drives off, leaving the bewildered bum behind.
As we can see, the joke was filmed on South El Camino Drive, south from Wilshire Boulevard, across the street from the east side of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I had always surmised this was a true location, and not shot on a backlot, as the numerous balustrades, columns, and other building details in the background seemed too elaborate to be merely a set. I kept an eye out for this setting for years, but nothing ever matched up. One day it struck me that perhaps the setting was the back side of a grand downtown hotel, such as the Biltmore, but that proved false.
For some reason I then remembered that the Beverly Wilshire Hotel appears during another scene from City Lights as part of Charlie and the millionaire’s drunken drive home. Since Chaplin had already filmed in that neighborhood, it struck me to check out the hotel on Google Street View, where I quickly matched the shot. This shot at the left from the drunken drive home actually shows the corner (oval) where Charlie grabbed the cigar butt.
Here is a view of the hotel as it appears during the drunk driving scene. Charlie and the Millionaire’s path takes them from traveling west along Wilshire to north on Rodeo Drive, with the hotel whizzing by as they make the turn.
Here is a modern view of the same intersection.
All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, copyright © Roy Export Company Establishment. CHARLES CHAPLIN, CHAPLIN, and the LITTLE TRAMP, photographs from and the names of Mr. Chaplin’s films are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Incorporated SA and/or Roy Export Company Establishment.