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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. (****)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
It's 1930s America. The unemployment rate is sky high, the strikes are
constant, and the unions and police force are in an undeclared state of
war. Adrift in the chaos, the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) wanders in and
out of jail, from one short-lived job to another, at the mercy of his
nerves and his penchant for explosive accidents. During one of his many
run-ins with the cops, he meets up with the gamin (Paulette Goddard) a
poor but feisty patron of the streets. In love, in abject poverty, with
nothing to hold onto but each other, they struggle to carve out a life
for themselves, in spite of the odds and the brutal demands of a
Unlike City Lights, my favorite Chaplin film, the screwball moments in Modern Times began to feel extraneous, and had me glancing at my watch, waiting to get back to the meat of the story. I've always loved Chaplin, but loved him for his skill as a director and actor, for his uncanny ability to make beautiful women look natural and unadorned, and for his knack at presenting poignant satire without ever sounding preachy, and not because I find him especially funny. The childish romp through the department sore is whimsical, heartwarming, and more than a little forlorn, but less can be said of the Tramp's accident-prone attempts to aid the master mechanic, which, like many sequences in the movie, feels overdrawn, and a little superficial compared to the weightier material it supplants.
Sometimes I found myself wondering if the film could benefit from a hack job or two, yet it was never irksome enough to get between the movie and its reputation, for indeed, Modern Times is every bit of the classic it's purported to be. Chaplin was a man of great endings, and the ending of Modern Times first its triumph, then its tragedy leaves little to be desired. Also great are the opening scenes at the factory, which feel just as creepy today as they must have felt in 1936.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well into the sound era of films, Chaplin was not quite ready to
abandon The Little Tramp as a child-like mischievous bumbling misfit in
his city world. In "Modern Times", the silent era and The Little Tramp
return phoenix-like in arguably their zenith. Long after most talkie
films released during this time are considered outdated, this film will
be looked upon as an entertaining commentary upon disturbing
technological and social trends extending well into the future.
Although basically silent, with occasional written inserts, sound is
sparingly used, though not in dialogue. Among Chaplin's films, it
shares with its talkie successor, "The Great Dictator", the distinction
of being not just a comedy, but a clear satire on the underbelly of
evolving western civilization. In this film, it is the question of
whether machines were rapidly becoming the new slaves of men or whether
men were becoming the slaves of machines. The inhumanity of working on
an assembly line that ever increases in speed is the first target of
satire. Lucille Ball would return to this subject in one of her most
memorable comedy skits. Henry Ford found that the cure for the
astronomical turnover rate of workers on his assembly lines was to pay
unheard of wages to his largely immigrant work force. The next target
of satire is the invention of mechanical aids that are more trouble and
danger than they are worth, or which rob us of our remaining sense of
humanity. This is his famous automatic feeding machine comedy scene,
one of the most hilarious comedy scenes in the history of film making.
Next, Chaplin satirizes the increasing overcomplexity and bodily danger
of machines and of life in general. Throughout the film, he mixes
routine physical and situational comedy with occasional specialized
The Little Tramp is soon fired from every job he lands, whether it's on an assembly line, a construction job, a singing waiter or a mere night watchman. He lands in jail several times, sometimes for his own misdeeds, sometimes for the misdeeds of others. He is a misfit in an age where employees are expected to follow the rules to the letter and to be competent at their tasks. That's why he remains basically a vagrant, at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Each of us knows people who are less extreme versions of The Little Tramp. The Hippies of the later counterculture were rather like Charlie, except they mostly indulged in mind-bending drugs. Like Charlie, they thumbed their noses at the expectations of conventional society, often managing to survive on the throwaways of that society, by sometimes stealing the essentials for living or on occasional odd jobs. In the parting scene, Charlie and his street urchin girl friend(Paulette Goddard) are traveling onward, looking for a way to make their fortune or alternatively for work lives they can live with: something they are competent at, that doesn't maim them or give them a nervous breakdown and that gives them a sense of satisfaction. Most people in western society must travel this road at least once, if not periodically.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Laughter was a scarce resource in America during the great depression, which lasted nearly ten years from 1929 to 1939. Unemployment was extremely high and many families struggled to get food on their dinner tables. The world's economy was in shambles and many countries were on the verge of war in 1936 when Charlie Chaplin released his silent comedic movie "Modern Times". Just as many of Chaplin's movies he directed, produced and starred in this comedic masterpiece. Similar to his past movies Chaplin uses his "little tramp" character to illustrate the different trials and tribulations many men and women where facing during that time. This is one of Chaplin's first political themed movies. "Modern Times" is a story in which still relates to our everyday lives. As technology improves there will always be people similar to the little tramp character of "Modern Times", just not as hilarious as Chaplin's antics. This hilarious movie follows the Little Tramp as he attempts to find means to survive. Once he is laid off from his factory he is mistakenly identified as a communist protest leader, and quickly incarcerated. The hijiinks continue for the Little Tramp within the prison walls, one such instance was when he mistakenly consumed cocaine during lunch. As soon as the cocaine hits his system lunch is over and the prisoners must return to their cells, while he is being transported from one room to another a prison break erupts and he is once again thrown into the middle of an intense situation and he has no idea. Unknowingly he breaks up the prison break and is award for his brave actions with a pardon, once again he is free man, and however he is still broke, hungry, and homeless. Determined to get imprisoned again where he will receive three meals and a place to stay becomes his number one priority. Instantly his dream to be imprisoned again comes true as a young orphan girl whom is also dearly struggling to survive is caught stealing and as she fled from the police she ran into The little Tramp. He quickly takes the blame for the theft and is arrested. Once released from jail he his re-introduced to the young girl whom had escaped the police. The two of them immediately create a bond between them and vow to do whatever they have to do to survive. Chaplin eventually returns to work at the factory, and even though he's really not good at anything he still makes a valiant effort. His factory career doesn't last long before the workers go back on strike; once again he's unemployed and hungry. He eventually gets a job as a server/ entertainer at a local café where his young friend is performing at. Similar to all his other professions, Chaplin is thrown into the hectic lifestyle that was prevailing at the time. The increased industrialization and modernization was a huge conflict for The Little Tramp, whom was incapable of adapting. Ultimately he finds his calling, without the intrusion of technology he perfects his natural calling of an entertainer.
Movie Review: Modern Times The movie Modern Times provides a funny
point of view about the unemployed people. Charles Chaplin
characterizes an unemployed person who tries to stay in jail for life.
At the beginning of the movie, he is wrongfully accused of communist
and stayed in jail. One day after he is in jail, some inmates try to
escape, but Chaplin killed them and saved the policemen's lives. As a
result, he is freed from jail. However, he does not want to leave. He
did not have a home or place to live. When he left the jail, he met a
girl who is also unemployed and poor. He tried to get back to jail, but
the girl gets him out of jail. After a couple of weeks, he found a job
as a night watchman for a department store. However, he felt sleep at
his job and was put back in jail. While he was in jail, the girl found
a job as a dancer. After he left jail, he finds a job as a waiter and
singer, but the police finds them and they escaped. Finally, they
decide to move to another city to find new adventures.
The music adds a special touch to the movie. Even though there are hardly any words, the few sentences that are pronounced or written in the movie helps the audience keep up with the story. It is a beautiful story where two people meet and fall in love. They are both poor, but with each other's help they decide to continue and try new adventures. I would have liked to see a happier ending where both will have found a steady job and bought a house.
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
Modern Times (1936), filmed between 1932 and 1936, it was directed, written, and produced by Charlie Chaplin. This was Chaplin's first film after his successful City Lights (1931). This film is Charlie Chaplin's protest against what is lost from silent films through the sound industry revolutionizing the film industry. There is no traditional voice dialogue in the film - but voices and sounds do originate from machines (e.g., the feeding machine), television screens (i.e., the authoritarian on the screen in the lavatory), and Chaplin's actual voice is heard singing as well as special sound effects are used. Set during the Great Depression, the movie's main concern reflected the millions of Americans in the era - joblessness, destitution, and famine. It had a number of marvelous and memorable scenes that showed the frustrating relationship between man and machine in the Industrial Age and social institutions. The scenes of the Chaplin's character Tramp is alternated between scenes as a factory worker, a shipyard worker, a night watchman, a singing waiter, or a criminal put in jail. The Tramp also deals with various authority figures during his abuses: a 'Big Brother' factory boss, a minister, juvenile authorities, a sheriff, a shipyard foreman, a store manager, etc. Under the overlaid credits, a clock face approaches 6 o'clock. The preface explains the film's topic: "'Modern Times.' A relationship between industry, and individual enterprise - humanity exploring a median between efficiency and happiness." The film starts with an overhead shot of a flock of sheep crowding their enclosure, and rushed through a shaft. Instantly, sheep dissolve into a related overhead shot of industrial workers pushing out of a subway station on their way to work in a factory during their commute. Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin is a milestone film, showing numerous changes in Chaplin's film making. It is also one of Chaplin's most famous films. It contains quite a few first attempts by Charlie Chaplin. It is Chaplin's movie used to make a social remark. It introduced Paulette Goddard, his partner both on & off screen. It is his first true talking film; in keeping with the movie's topic of the dehumanization of society, all of the voices in the film came from non-living sources (radios, a phonograph record, etc.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Modern Times" by Charlie Chaplin is a comedy but also a scathing
commentary on the effects of modernization on the individual. The movie
shows one man and one woman's trials and tribulations during the "Great
"Modern Times" follows the life of the factory worker (Charlie Chaplin) and the Gamin (his wife at the time). The factory worker's life is shown beginning with an incredibly poignant fade from a herd of pigs being corralled down a caged in hallway presumably toward their slaughter to a mass exodus of humans from a subway entrance. This immediately makes one imagine that the humans are exactly like the pigs being led to slaughter, but the slaughter the humans are facing, or so the film espouses, is the slaughter of their individuality. The movie shows all of the workers in the factory toiling very hard to keep up with their grinding jobs as the factory owner sits on his rear and has breakfast and relaxes as he watches the workers through a closed circuit television system. He constantly is forcing the workers to work harder for the same pay.
One of the most interesting things done in the movie is having the thing selling the automatic feeding machine be a machine itself. This shows a glimpse into our own future commenting on machines taking our jobs like most jobs at car factories are now done by robots. The factory owner tries out the automatic feeding machine on the factory worker, hoping that the machine would allow him to stretch his worker's days even longer by ending the lunch break. This shows the rich, the factory owner, exploiting the poor, the factory worker, and how the rich continue to get richer on the backs of the poor. Eventually the stress of it all takes its toll on the factory worker and he cracks.
The themes of modernization ripping away individuality, the rich exploiting the poor, and individuality sticking out in a bad way continue throughout the movie. You at once laugh at the factory workers exploits but at the same time feel his pain. The comedy shows a less depressing way to look at the problems allowing for a hopeful view for tomorrow and the possibility of finding solutions. The movie has great meaning even today about the injustices of modernization.
"Who's that goofy looking man with the over-sized suit stuck in that
machine?" One would ask catching a glimpse of Charlie Chaplain's Modern
Times (1927). Charlie Chaplain, bent and contorted between gears and
sprockets, provokes laughs as well as thoughtful insight into man's
relationship with technology. This film entices one to consider the
conflict between the human body and machines.
To stimulate thoughts on man's relationship with machines, Modern Times places the main character, a happy-go-lucky factory worker who inadvertently finds trouble with the law and has difficulty keeping a job, in a variety of awkward situations. In telling his story, the movie exposes themes surrounding industrialization, unemployment, and social stratification. These themes reflect the movie's main point that industrialization can lead to unemployment and a stratified social structure.
Industrialization is a major theme in the movie. At a factory, it is obvious that machines play a large role. In fact, it seems that the men are secondary to the machines. The workers do their work based on what the machines do; a machine is even brought in to feed the workers. This is apparent during the main character's struggle to keep up with an ornery conveyor belt. Eventually, the main character finds himself sucked into the machine. Watching a man surrounded by the inner workings of the machine, one cannot help but reflect on the ubiquitous nature of machines in society. Although the machines are helpful, their presence causes hardship amongst many.
The increasing use of machines is depicted in the film as a chief cause of unemployment. While trying to find work, Chaplain's character experiences the hardships caused by vast unemployment. A young female friend of his personifies the struggle endured by many who could not find work. The machines are directly connected to unemployment through a newspaper clipping. The clipping reads, "Factories Open: Men returning to work." Were it not for the machines in these factories, men would have no work, but one must remember that it was the machines who put them out of work in the first place.
The movie goes on to suggest that machines have stratified society. While many suffer from unemployment because of the machines, others thrive. The president of the factory provides the best example of this. He sits in his office doing puzzles and occasionally shouting an order through a machine. While his workers exert themselves and others starve on the streets, this man has benefited greatly because of machines.
Through these themes, one notices the constant conflict between man and machine. Chaplain's character struggles against conveyor belts and escalators and suffers at the hands of an uncontrollable feeding machine. While in a constant struggle with machines not to be replaced, man finds himself in need of them as well. They make his life easier in some cases. Although produced seventy years ago, the social commentary provided in this film raises pertinent questions for today. As machines become "smarter" and more useful, how can man maintain his value?
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