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Modern Times
Year:
1936
Country:
USA
Genre:
Drama, Romance, Comedy
IMDB rating:
8.5
Director:
Charles Chaplin
Paulette Goddard as A Gamin
Henry Bergman as Cafe Proprietor
Tiny Sandford as Big Bill
Hank Mann as Burglar
Stanley Blystone as Gamin's Father
Al Ernest Garcia as President of the Electro Steel Corp.
Richard Alexander as Prison Cellmate (as Dick Alexander)
Cecil Reynolds as Minister
Mira McKinney as Minister's Wife (as Myra McKinney)
Murdock MacQuarrie as J. Widdecombe Billows
Wilfred Lucas as Juvenile Officer
Edward LeSaint as Sheriff Couler
Storyline: Chaplins last 'silent' film, filled with sound effects, was made when everyone else was making talkies. Charlie turns against modern society, the machine age, (The use of sound in films ?) and progress. Firstly we see him frantically trying to keep up with a production line, tightening bolts. He is selected for an experiment with an automatic feeding machine, but various mishaps leads his boss to believe he has gone mad, and Charlie is sent to a mental hospital... When he gets out, he is mistaken for a communist while waving a red flag, sent to jail, foils a jailbreak, and is let out again. We follow Charlie through many more escapades before the film is out.
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Reviews
Modern Times Is The Last Great Silent Film
Following the release of City Lights, Chaplin met with several world leaders as he toured the world for eighteen months. Chaplin formulated ideas for his next film during this tour while the United States was caught in the grip of The Great Depression. It was the wave of automation in the industrial economy which peaked Chaplin's interest. His visit to the auto and industrial factories in Detroit served as the basis for his opening scenes of Modern Times. Chaplin preventing his co-workers from chasing him by throwing the conveyor belt switch makes a huge visual statement which correlates with Chaplin's views of workers' lives being controlled by economic oppression. Chaplin, the artist unencumbered by daily life, views individuals in The Great Depression (literally) as cogs, in one late scene, in the industrial machine, left behind or replaced at will due to a changing economy.

In Modern Times, Chaplin plays the tramp for the final time with his latest female protégé: Paulette Goddard stars in her first featured role as the gamin. Chaplin again combines all the known trademarks of his craft into an immensely entertaining experience: Acrobatics and athleticism, allusions to previous films, crisp cinematography, great editing, pantomime, perfect comic timing, sight gags, social commentary, and some pathos. The combination is nearly perfect in a film which often feels not like a feature film but like a series of short films strung together. Several scenarios feature delightful changes in plot and setting, mirroring the necessity for the everyman to adapt to the changing world around him (although not always understanding it or being successful).

The tramp is cast as an everyman trying to balance his penchant for protecting pretty girls with maintaining a job in spite of his inability to gel as one of the crowd in the industrial environment. The tramp works in an electric company factory, in a shipyard ever so briefly, as a floorwalker at night in a department store, and again in the factory as an assistant to a mechanic. In between, he spends a few stretches in the hoosegow. He defends the gamin, who tries stealing bread from a storefront. Bit by bit, the tramp and the gamin join forces and realize it's more hopeful trying to make it together in life than by oneself.

Chaplin wrote, produced, and directed the film with a keen awareness of American society at the time. The film was released during the height of The Great Depression in 1936, and many aspects of the film speak to that, including the common themes of sticking together under trying circumstances and worker oppression. This is the second film which Chaplin composed the music for at the time of a film's original release. The song "Smile" can be heard multiple times during the film, has been used over and over many times since, and has become a standard in the cannon of great American songs.

Highlights of the film include the factory scenes, reminiscent of both Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Rene Clair's A Nous La Liberte a few years before. Modern Times created a controversy between the makers of A Nous La Liberte and Chaplin, taking many years to resolve. The scene where Chaplin inadvertently leads a mob of protesters turned bitterly ironic when over fifteen years later, it was used against Chaplin by those accusing him of having communist and socialist leanings. Chaplin paid for it, informally forced into exile to Europe from which he returned only briefly to receive a special Oscar in 1972. The automation scenes, while highly exaggerated for 1936, turned out to be not so far-fetched in the end. Today we can see this in everyday life, like self serve pumps and checkouts, and not just behind the scenes in factories and businesses. The prison scene serves as a visual metaphor for the working man enveloped by the industrial economy; success may be just as much a result of fate or luck as hard work, just like the reasons for his arrest and eventual release from prison. As the night floorwalker, Chaplin recalls his two earlier films The Floorwalker and The Rink, displaying his extraordinary athleticism on the escalator and with the roller skates.

Chaplin sings off the cuff (literally) as a singing waiter in a commentary about sound in films, echoing the public speeches at the beginning of City Lights. Chaplin has always relied on charm, facial expressions, gesticulations, and personality in films. In Modern Times, his message is clear that sound is as intrusive in film as the mundane requirements of the working world are in the lives of us all. He wisely chose to leave sound confined to the music he composed for the soundtrack and the factory's hierarchical communications filtered by mechanical means; an example of this is the big boss looking over the tramp's shoulder in the bathroom from the monitor, berating the tramp to return to work. The big boss also bears more than a passing resemblance to industrial giant Henry Ford. The film ends with one of the most recognizably upbeat scenes in American film history. Chaplin regular, Henry Bergman, makes his last film appearance as the café proprietor near the end. Chester Conklin plays the factory's mechanic. **** of 4 stars.
2008-11-09
Historical Cult
Definitely, one of the best movies of all time. If you are young and meet with Chaplin for the first time, it is the first movie that you need to see.

I am sure you'll find this movie very unique and great. With the aid of this movie, you may change your perspectives through people and maybe even your life style. It's a difficult job to foreshadow 21th century in 1936 but Chaplin did it with a perfect way that's why I adore him and his movies.

Furthermore, it represents many features of capitalism -today's economical and social model- with a satirical way of point. You may watch very "direct" political movies but don't like them because they focus on a specific kind of audience. However, Chaplin directed/wrote his movies for all sort of audiences in a very repressive time. He risked many things to make us watch these masterpieces.
2015-09-01
Something modern in Modern Times?
Change the film to color, update the wardrobe, give everyone speaking parts, and you got yourself a movie one might think came out last Friday. Modern Times is a whimsical tale of an unlucky man, struggling with the oppressive, impersonal nature of technology and the unattainable "American Dream". Evidence of the film's negative take on technology can be seen in the automated lunch feeder, for which the owner of the factory reluctantly agrees to a demo, in hopes of cutting the costs of needless "break time". The machine inevitably fails and ironically, produces more problems taking up more of the worker's time. Another example is the assembly line, which could arguably be one of the most revolutionary technologies ever made. The assembly line, which requires a worker to know only one piece of the puzzle, thus making the worker replaceable, is portrayed in this movie as mind numbing and monotonous. Even after the worker is finished, he continues the physical motions until he zones back in to reality. If this film were made today, instead of an assembly line we might see cubicles and their anti-social effects on the employee. Maybe there's a scene where an employee requests an icon in "cornflower blue". Or maybe there's a scene that shows the pointlessness of staff meetings and how nothing gets done. Actually, updated versions of this movie have been made. All three scenarios are found in Office Space, Fight Club and the television show, The Office. Although the US is now an information/services economy, the ideal business is still seen as running like a well-oiled machine. Eliminating inefficient practices by maximizing employee output and eliminating service gaps. Although Modern Times is a comedy, specifically physical comedy, the message the creator is trying to send is clear. The negative effects of industrialization portrayed in this film are poignant and moving. These "modern times" only benefit a select few, those at the top. Maybe physical comedy was the creator's only way of getting his message across, knowing that if his film was a serious piece, he might have been ostracized, perhaps worse.

John V. Govt. 490
2008-05-27
A film I will continue to watch for years and years.
Everywhere people look, there is someone staring at a machine. Computers have become more popular than they were ten years ago. Gameboys and iPods are constantly used by young people the world over. Even "mom and pop" stores rely on machines. Who predicted that all this was going to happen? One person did in 1936 and his name was Charles Chaplin. The world's greatest director said all this in his best film Modern Times. Obviously predicting the future wasn't Chaplin's only intention. He also wanted to take his beloved Tramp character to bigger and more exciting settings. The gags are important for all of Chaplin's comedic pictures and Modern Times is no exception. Finally, the Tramp was given a real love interest and one who the viewers want Chaplin to get together with. Modern Times stands as not only one of the funniest, but also one of the most important movies of all-time.

One of the most famous images from Modern Times is one showing the Tramp in the middle of a group of cogs. What most people don't know is what occurs after, which involves the Tramp becoming crazy and being sent to a mental asylum. This represents something that was happening to factory workers at the time. Chaplin understood the workers' problems and was able to show what was happening to them on screen in a comedic, but respective manner. However, the main reason that Modern Times has become timeless is because it is still relevant in today's society. Technology can be found everywhere nowadays, so much so that people are now obsessed with getting the newest game system or portable video device. Chaplin feared that that would happen and he used his film to show the future decay of society. About a decade before the publication of George Orwell's 1984, Modern Times featured a factory president barking orders and spying at everyone using a television. What is even more impressive is that the television did not enter the world until the 1950's. Now, while Modern Times is a silent film, people are heard speaking, but only from electronic devices showing Chaplin's opinion on the "talkie" revolution. However, since this would be the Little Tramp's final appearance, it was time to give more space for more gags.

Charlie Chaplin's short films concerned mostly simple gags repeated throughout its short course. When he made the large leap to feature-length films, he allowed the Tramp character to grow far from what he considered a comedy to be. He had said to Mack Sennett while leaving Keystone Films that all you need to make a comedy is "a policeman, a park and a pretty girl." Yes, Modern Times does have various policemen as well as a pretty girl, but it has moved far beyond the park. Chaplin's wonderful idea to lampoon Henry Ford's assembly line involved him moving the Tramp from the park into the factory. He also renamed him the "factory worker." People are so enthralled by the factory worker's actions due to how well constructed the story is. Chaplin's screenplay is so entertaining and thrilling. This is a story that makes one think and laugh at the same time. Only the Tramp could go through each job and fail miserably, but already be ready for a new adventure involving a new girl.

In Chaplin's previous works, the Tramp is mostly seen going after a girl and trying to win her heart. However, there is always an obstacle in the way, whether it be a big bully also fighting for her affection or blindness. In the end, he never does get the girl and walks off into the sunset. For Modern Times, the Tramp and the gamin are a team ready for new adventures. With Chaplin not trying to get together with her, it actually works out better for him. Paulette Goddard's performance is very nuanced and she is a girl the audience likes and was probably the smartest female character in Chaplin's film. The Tramp and the gamin's combined knowledge of hard-knocked life make them fight the oppression of the world. Even when they're down on their luck near the end of the film, the Tramp gives this important piece of information: "Buck up - Never say die. We'll get along!" The Tramp was always not only raising the viewer's spirits, but the characters in his films as well. The gamin was the last character he'd give his advice to and it was probably his best. Anyone down on their luck should have a positive outlook on life, because it won't get better if someone mopes all day long. For those with negative minds will lead a horrible and unhappy life. These are the ideas that people should carry with them everyday.

While one of Charlie Chaplin's main intention was to make people laugh, he also wanted to educate viewers about the problems facing people in America. Modern Times is a masterpiece where the Tramp fights depression, gets the girl and makes people have a jolly good time.
2007-07-05
what I thought it was about
It's not about it being hilarious I just had to watch this movie too. Its about its social ties to the silent era. All the sound effects and voices were done in post. Its about Chaplin making fun of the new talkie movies of that time. He has an evil boss who talks notice. A new machine is made to eliminate the lunch hour. People trying to make more money on people who don't have any. The two main characters that are struggling just to get by never make a sound. Also when Chaplin does finally speak he signs a song to Americans in another language and they love it. Actions speak louder than words and that's what this movie is about. Chaplin pokes fun at the new films and makes a silent movie when they were all but over. Probably one of the 50 best movies ever made for its history, hidden meanings, and subtext.
2007-01-30
Modern Film
I admit my rating is biased since I talked a girl into seeing it with me and that we saw it on the big screen.

But the fact remains he showed the world that a film doesn't need sound but a good story and great acting.

But the fact remains the film was well-paced and didn't seem out of date in its outlook of the world, which shows that we didn't invent fast paced editing.

But the fact remains the subjects he brings up are portentious. The boss wanting to maximize production, worker's strikes, drug use, jail life, he has to actually work to make money isn't always true, and life isn't always that grand; where Matchstick Men has a feel good ending that is false here Chaplin ends his film genuinely in a bittersweet ending. It still amuses me how he was locked up in the film for mistakenly being labelled a Communist while in a few years he is prevented from reentering the US.

It's worth watching many, many times. And if you have a pair of wrenches in your hand, you will never look at a girl the same way twice.

PS I still can't figure how many times he stumbled before getting the roller skating scene just right.
2003-10-22
Quirky
I watched Modern Times as my first Chaplin film and in fact, my first ever silent film. Being 21 years old I may have a different view on comedy and older films but I failed to see the deep emotional side of this film.

The ending is emotional, thought out and very touching, but I personally felt that the simple plot consisted largely of slapstick comedy (which I have never been fond of) performed by a protagonist who could not function as a normal human being in modern society. Because of this, I found myself unable to relate to the film. I believe that a more 'normal' protagonist could have given this film much more meaning... saying this, if we had a 'normal' protagonist then this would not be a Charlie Chaplin comedy film.

To summarise, my relatively low score out of 10 comes down to my age, my lack of understanding of Chaplin's history and my dislike of slapstick comedy. The reason the score isn't lower is due to my respect for Chaplin, silent films and old cinema as well as finding some of the moments in this film both amusing and touching.
2017-04-27
A definition of "classic"
Usually you watch old films trying to be generous with your criticism because of the huge difficulties the directors and actors faced those days. This one is a miracle. A comedy that stands tall even in today's cinema, starring perhaps the best comedian who lived on earth. At some parts it is hilarious, but the social message Chaplin wants to pass is always there, making Modern Times even more important. The love story is also very sweet and Paulette Goddard is a remarkably beautiful woman! So what to say about this man's genius? Charlie Chaplin acts, directs and even composes the music! And by all means he does a magnificent job. You can find great symbolism and a lot of political references, we all have to remember that Chaplin was accused of being a communist (which of course was a pride for intellectuals, given their accusers). I have unlimited respect for the Great Charlie Chaplin.
2000-01-19
Hilarious, Thoughtful, & Timeless
A delightful film with one great scene after another, Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" is hilarious, thoughtful, and timeless. Chaplin combined his silent film skills with creative use of sound effects and music, and added a wide variety of interesting and entertaining settings, to create a film that is very pleasing to watch. Chaplin's own fine acting is complemented by a delightful and charming performance by Paulette Goddard. And the story itself, filled with twists and turns, is a timeless commentary on "modern" life, much of which is applicable to any era.

Charlie's "Tramp" character joins up in this one with a lively, orphaned gamin (Goddard) to help each other through a lengthy series of setbacks and triumphs that reflect the stresses of fast-paced modern life. Most of their adventures are hilarious, but many also contain serious social commentary that is still just as relevant in any age. Chaplin and Goddard make a delightful pair who win the complete sympathy of the viewer in their fight for survival.

The movie has one great scene after another, from some wild sequences in a steel factory, to a set of sometimes breath-taking antics in a deserted department store, to the incomparable climactic sequence in a cafe, and many others in between. The settings are done with great care and wit, and the action makes full use of the props and possibilities at hand.

This is a wonderful movie that anyone who likes vintage cinema will enjoy. Even those who are thoroughly jaded by the excesses of modern cinema should at least give "Modern Times" a try. This is one of the great masterpieces of Chaplin's or any other era.
2001-06-21
The Lady and the Tramp
MODERN TIMES (United Artists, 1936), was written, produced, scored, directed, and stars Charlie Chaplin in what was to become his final role as the Little Tramp. It also marked the close to the silent screen era. In fact, MODERN TIMES, though not essentially a silent film in a sense, but more like some made between 1927-29 equipped with underscoring, sound effects and talking sequences. While silent movies officially ended by 1929, Chaplin kept that genre going with CITY LIGHTS (1931) and MODERN TIMES, demonstrating that silents is still golden. Chaplin, having come a long way from London music halls to American silent comedies dating back to 1914, not only developed his character but established the greatness in his work. Reportedly in production for two years, possibly more, Chaplin's ability to perfect comedy routines into a simple story like MODERN TIMES is amazing. Supporting Chaplin is Paulette Goddard, an movie extra since 1929, now awarded the opportunity in a major role opposite the comedy legend. Unlike Chaplin's other leading ladies of the past, Goddard is reportedly the only one to become successful, especially during the 1940s following her second pairing in Chaplin's first talkie as THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940).

The opening credits super imposed in front of a clock, indicates time as now, while its opening title that reads, "Modern Times is a story of industry - of individual enterprise - of humanity crusading in pursuit of happiness" indicates something else, a satire of the machine age, past, present and future, while in fact being one story with two related themes. The first revolves around two people of different backgrounds facing uncertainties with their present lives while the second half turns into a love story between these two same people who have fallen through hard times of the Depression. Before their devotion to one another occurs, their introduction begins with Charlie (Charlie Chaplin), a factory worker of the Electro Steel Corporation where he tightens bolts on moving belts. Unable to adjust to the advanced technology as a tester to a a new type of feeding machine, he acquires a nervous breakdown that has him committed to an asylum for a rest cure. Next introduction is on the Gamin (Paulette Goddard), a waterfront girl whose unemployed father (Stanley Blystone) is killed in a riot, leaving her two younger sisters to be sent to an orphanage while, after escaping from the juvenile officers, struggles to survive in the outside world. Caught stealing a loaf of bread by the law, Charlie, who has since been released from the hospital and struggling himself to find work, comes to her defense admitting he stole it. The lady and the tramp meet again in the patrol wagon that soon breaks down in an accident, leaving these two strangers to make their escape together into the world of uncertainty. Their uncertainty finally turns to hope when a cabaret owner (Henry Bergman) hires the girl to work as a dancer while Charlie is employed as a singing waiter. All's well until the juvenile division track down the girl to have her arrested.

For one of Chaplin's most admired films, there's no spoken dialog, at least from Chaplin's standpoint. Talking sequences comes from the factory president (Allan Garcia), who, at one point, yells at Charlie to "get back to work." Other sounds include a radio announcer's voice, police sirens, a barking dog and stomach churning. Chaplin, who preferred to keep his tramp character silent, did offer audiences the opportunity to hear his voice for the first time, in song, for the cabaret sequence, doing some double-talk rendition to "Titina."  

While MODERN TIMES has become relatively known throughout the years, it was rarely revived until Chaplin's reissued it some time prior to his death in 1977. Having attended the 1980 theatrical revival of MODERN TIMES at the Regency Theater in New York City where it played to a full house, I witnessed patrons, young and old alike, laughing hysterically and watching with amazement at many key scenes being the feeding machine sequence; Charlie roller skating around the department store blindfolded; and his method of feeding lunch to his employer (Chester Conklin) while stuck inside the machine's safety wheels. Considering MODERN TIMES to be not quite so modern by today's standards, it demonstrates how comedy never grows out of style.

Acquiring less pathos than CITY LIGHTS, MODERN TIMES is most memorable in the way it bids goodbye to Chaplin's world of silent movie making through its underscoring to the sentimental "Smile (Though Your Heart is Breaking"). MODERN TIMES, along with other Chaplin features and short subjects, were distributed on CBS Home Video in 1989 to commemorate Chaplin's centennial year of his birth. Though frequent revivals on various cable channels, ranging from Turner Network Television (1989), American Movie Classics (1991-2001), and Turner Classic Movies (as part of "The Essentials") assures how this and many other Chaplin films are to remain in view as long as there are those around to appreciate his art and style the way he originally intended it to be, through laughter and a little tear, especially during these modern times. (****)
2009-01-10
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