One of the great attributes in Federico Fellini's tragic masterpiece Nights of Cabiria is the sensational performance by his wife and leading lady Giulietta Masina. The way she manipulates her wide eyes, her large eyebrows and her walk and manner is a complete character performance and is similar to a cartoon character. In some ways she is portraying a lonely and naïve prostitute looking for love and affection; but when looking closer at the performance you can see the character of Charlie Chaplin's the Little Tramp with a subtle touch of Lucille Ball. Fellini even admits that the style and influence of the picture is based on one of his favorite films which was Charlie Chaplin's silent masterpiece City Lights. Her exaggerated dance in the nightclub is a reminder of the purity and love of The Tramp and even her encounter with the wealthy movie star is reminiscent of The Tramps encounter with the millionaire in City Lights who only recognizes The Tramp when he is drunk.
Even before Fellini's slow progression into surrealism, you can see a touch of his 'Fellinique' style slipping through the seams of the Nights of Cabiria. Film critic Roger Ebert added Nights of Cabiria to his 'Great Movies' list saying, "Fellini's roots as a filmmaker are in the postwar Italian Neorealist movement (he worked for Rossellini on Rome, Open City in 1945), and his early films have a grittiness that is gradually replaced by the dazzling phantasms of the later ones. Nights of Cabiria is transitional; it points toward the visual freedom of La Dolce Vita while still remaining attentive to the real world of postwar Rome." The character of Cabiria can be looked at as a saint among sinners who roams through the gritty streets and gutters of Rome carrying herself proudly and magically remaining untouched by the horrors of the world.