Review this movie
Sep 26, 2010While Chaplin is known for his physical comedy, Modern Times moves the Tramp into a new direction, making a hard hitting statement about the depression era and man coexisting with machine.
Chaplin's lovable Tramp character is seen here as a factory worker, on the verge of a breakdown as he's unable to keep up with the frantic pace mandated by the conveyor belt before him. After being subjected to a crack pot inventor's machine, intended to feed employees while they work, the Tramp suffers a breakdown, which causes havoc for man and machine alike. After being mistaken for a communist supporter leading a parade down a street, the Tramp is put in jail, where, after a heroic act, is set free to pursue a life of unemployment. Seeing jail as a better alternative to starvation, the Tramp attempts to return to jail. Meanwhile he meets a Gamin (Paulette Goddard) and they set out to start a new life together.
Modern Times is a significant film for several reasons. It was originally going to be Chaplin's first talkie as the Tramp, it acted as Chaplin's social comment on the depression era, and it is considered the last silent film from that era. In the end, Modern Times became a mix of silent film and talkie, but in keeping with Chaplin's cleverness, all dialog (except for one scene) is spoken through machines. The factory president barks orders at his workers from big screens throughout the factory (a predecessor of the all-seeing "big brother"), a salesman presents a recording of his sales pitch, and voices are heard over a radio. There are also several sounds presented in the film, such as whistles, dogs, and gunshots. This is also the only time the Tramp speaks, but as expected from Chaplin, the Tramp's only audible dialog is a song of gibberish (which Chaplin chose to make sure the dialog could be understood (or not understood) by all people).
With Chaplin's Tramp character, he shows how much control his has over his body and why he's one of the greats of physical comedy. Many of the jokes seem overdone, since they've been mimiced endlessly in Hollywood through the years, but it's still easy to appreciate the level of physical control and demand Chaplin commands in his performance. Chaplin's female co-star, Paulette Goddard is no slouch either as she's right along with him in many scenes and proves a worthy companion. There's one particular scene in the factory when the Tramp gets caught in the gears of a large machine, it's like a choreographed dance with the inner-workings of a great machine.
If you're new to Chaplin or have been a fan for years, Modern Times is an insightful and entertaining romp through an era of beginnings and endings, and what better tour guide than the lovable Tramp.
Apart from a great transfer of this classic film, the DVD/Blu-ray release boasts a handful of extras, including an intro by David Robinson, the insightful 26 minute documentary with Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne titled Chaplin Today: Modern Times, deleted scenes, Modern Times karaoke, photo gallery, and trailer reel.… Expand
Apr 25, 2014HIM:
If Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Chaplin’s City Lights (1931) got it on and had a baby, they would have to name it Modern Times. I'm no enemy of free enterprise (even though I'm about to sound like one), but if anything could turn me into a flag-waving communist, it's this oldie but goodie. Chaplin’s indictment of industrialization, crony capitalism, and the exploitation of workers (symbolized not-so-subtly by a herd of sheep, one notable black one among them), Modern Times must have profoundly resonated with a Depression-era population desperate for work and often left to feel like mere cogs in the Great Industrial Machine - in the Tramp's case, literally.
As in Metropolis, business magnates look for cheaper and better ways to squeeze the most out of their workers. We also see a female freedom fighter working tirelessly to defend the socially-disadvantaged masses while struggling to put bread on her own table. This is a world in which there is no middle class, just a handful of Richie Riches and everyone else. (Sound familiar?) To be an "employee" is to barely subsist, which means you might just have to turn to a life of crime if you want to feed your family. Who cares if you go to jail, Chaplin concludes, at least that way you eat. The poor guy doesn’t want much, just a job that pays a decent wage and a home he won’t lose to the bank. Filthy socialist!
But there’s something else we should notice here. The fact that a man as well-off as Chaplin could tell a probing story about working class problems suggests that there was, once upon a time, an era when the wealthy registered enough concern about the rich-poor divide to talk honestly about it. A stark reminder that our experiment with democracy and social welfare over the past couple of centuries has been short-lived and that the rich and powerful will always find a way to build million-dollar condos atop the carcasses of the poor bastards who helped get them there.
Don't get me wrong, I love money. I just hope my humanity doesn't drown if I find myself swimming in it.
And he does it again! Chaplin had an undeniable knack for combining laughs, a well-constructed plot, and a great big heart in all of his films. Case in point: a midpoint scene in which a former co-worker robs the department store the Tramp is now guarding, claiming not to be a criminal and just needing to feed his family. It's a moment that has you chuckling one minute and fighting tears, the next. Classic Chappy!
The opening assembly line scene isn't just a classic, it's farkin' hilarious, as funny today as it was 80 years ago, showing that when it came to comedy, Chaplin just got it. I also love that he rather consistently steers away from reducing his female characters to props, choosing instead to give them strong, decisive and, dare I say, equal importance in his stories.
It was heartbreaking to learn of the opposition Chaplin faced during the second half of his career thanks to Senator Joseph McCarthy and all of his friends. But maybe the persecution he endured was part of what made him such a brilliant storyteller, who knows? Either way his films still resonate as some of the most creative, honest and authentically human of the twentieth century. Discovering great movies like Modern Times was exactly why we started this blog. Thank you, Charlie!