Featuring probably the harshest and most critical scenes ever depicted on film of the Industrial Age, we see a group of mechanics working hard on an assembly line. A large screen next to them beams in their cold-hard manager who proceeds to bark out orders, demanding that they work “harder and faster”. One of the workers, Charlie Chaplin’s legendary character, the Tramp, becomes so engrossed in this monotonous ordeal that he suffers a nervous breakdown with hilarious consequences that spread chaos throughout the factory. As is customary, it is complete with his famous pantomime and physical comedy routines, resulting in another enduring and classic Chaplin scene.
Written and directed by Chaplin himself in 1936, Modern Times is one of his most famous and iconic pictures. It follows the Tramp as he tries to adjust to the demands and stress of working in an industrial city. However, he soon faces problems due to the Depression that the country is going through and is sent to jail, multiple times. He soon stumbles upon a homeless girl who he falls in love with. They both join together and try to live the dream life that society tells them they should aspire to.
The cornerstone of the greatness of this film is of course Charlie Chaplin’s outstanding acting. Here, he not only gives unforgettable comedy moments but also melodramatic scenes that are quite effective. In terms of the comedy, one of my favorites is the “food tasting machine” scene. Here, Chaplin displays complete and absolutely amazing spontaneous comedy. It ranks amongst the funniest scenes you will ever see. Another involves the Tramp with his manager next to the machines during lunch break. It is one where the lightness with which Chaplin exudes his comedic genius is something to behold and admire. The aforementioned dramatic scenes are equally effective and are clearest in the third act of the film, especially during the celebrated final scene.
However, it is not only Chaplin who gives an excellent performance. Paulette Goddard, playing the homeless girl, does a great job in portraying her character. She is beautiful, glowing and lovable throughout the picture. Two scenes of hers particularly stand out to me. One is during that entertaining department store sequence with Chaplin. The second is the cafe scene when her life takes a turn for the better. It is in these scenes where she is most elegant, adorable and charming. I doubt that she has ever given a better performance in her entire career.
Despite being considered a “silent” film, the film does contain sound, speech and even a song delivered by Charlie Chaplin himself, the latter being a very memorable scene. But, this is all done in a very smart and creative way that does not distract or alienate the viewer who is used to Chaplin’s films being silent. In addition, the music is used properly to give the scenes greater effect, something that is crucial to silent films.
Seen as one of Chaplin’s masterpieces, and rightfully so, Modern Times is yet another reminder of the brilliance of this man and the craft he has so perfected. Watching it again for the third time, I am still blown away by his achievement here. Bearing in mind that the film is now 76 years old, it is still fresh, entertaining and simply delightful. It is a must for all those who consider themselves movie buffs. Even though it might rely more on dramatic scenes than, say, his other great film City Lights, Modern Times remains a classic. And will remain so for a very long time.
- Charlie Chaplin (as The Tramp)
- Paulette Goddard (as The Homeless Girl)
1 hour and 27 minutes
Comedy / Drama / Silent / Romance