Movie Name: Modern Times
Studio: Charles Chaplin Productions
Release Date(s): February 5, 1936
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Times are tough for a factory worker (Charlie Chaplin) who finds himself overworked and underpaid. When he loses his factory job, things get more difficult and finding work is even harder. Teamed with a girl named Ellen (Paulette Goddard), the factory worker must find a way to support himself and his new friend. Finding work is a challenge, but keeping a job could be even harder.
Written, produced, and directed by Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times is a “silent” picture. The movie was critically acclaimed and often tops “Best Of” lists for all-time comedies. The movie was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1989. The movie was released in a remastered Criterion Edition (Criterion #543).
Silent movies are always a challenge. Modern Times was actually made long after The Jazz Singer “banished” silent films and is a bit of a hybrid silent picture. The movie does have dialogue, but it is generally told through action and cards. Modern Times’ hybrid style does help it be possibly more accessible for those challenged by silent pictures…and it continues to be a great film.
The story for Modern Times is appropriate for the title. It was a nice “modern” story about the advances in technology and workers trying to stay employed after becoming irrelevant. The movie also kind of condemns these capitalist advancements (the Tramp accidentally gets involved in a Communist protest at one point), and the movie’s story was one of the films cited by those accusing Chaplin of being a Communist (and helped lead to a summons to appear before the House of Un-American Activities).
Chaplin is great in his final appearance as his “Little Tramp” character. Here, the character is called “The Factory Worker”, and Chaplin brings all his classic expressions and performances. He is teamed with Paulette Goddard (who also joined Chaplin in The Great Dictator) and she plays well off of him.
Visually the movie also is top notch. Chaplin debated making the movie a talkie but went against recommendations by making it silent. As a result it has a bit of throwback feel even today (much like The Artist). It is almost like Chaplin is refusing to talk (which he plays with in his last song and dance). Chaplin is such an expressive performer that it isn’t necessary for him to speak. In addition to looking great, the film has been well preserved and is available in great transfers.
Modern Times was the last big silent film, so not only was it the end of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, but the end of an era. The film ends with Chaplin and Goddard walking off into the sunset…it seems rather appropriate. Chaplin was fortunate to make the transition to talkie films, but his silent films probably will remain his most renown. Chaplin knew how to adapt to modern times, and Modern Times really plays with the idea.