Discounting later parodies and novelty films, this was the last major American film to make use of silent film conventions such as title cards for dialogue. The very last dialogue title card of this film (and thus, it can be said, the entire silent era) belongs to The Tramp, who says "Buck up - never say die! We'll get along."
Supposedly was to be Charles Chaplin's first full sound film, but instead, sound is used in a unique way: we hear spoken voices only when they come from mechanical devices, a symbol of the film's theme of technology and dehumanization. Specifically, voices are heard from:
Charles Chaplin allows the Tramp to speak on camera for the first time during the restaurant scene, but insisted that what the Tramp says be universal. Therefore, the song the Tramp sings is in gibberish, but it is possible to follow the story he tells by watching his hand gestures.
The film originally ended with Charles Chaplin's character suffering a nervous breakdown and being visited in hospital by the gamin, who has now become a nun. This ending was filmed, though apparently only still photographs from the scene exist today (they are included in the 2003 DVD release of the film). Chaplin dropped this ending and shot a different, more hopeful ending instead.
This was always intended to be Charles Chaplin's first talkie. He even went as far as writing a dialogue script and experimenting with sound. However, because Chaplin intended the film to feature his Little Tramp character, sound seemed inappropriate. Consequently the film was made using silent techniques, shot at 18 frames per second and then projected at 24 frames per second, which gave the slapstick sequences a more frenetic feel.
According to Paulette Goddard, Chaplin was deeply and profoundly involved in the recording of the musical score. He spent days upon days in the recording studio writing themes, and only left when Paulette begged him.
The department store sequence originally had a scene where the Tramp lets one of the ex-factory workers clean out the goods from the silverware department of the store. However, Chaplin later felt this made the petty larceny The Tramp abets too serious a crime as opposed to stealing food to survive and he removed it from the final edit.
A full dialogue script was written for the film, as Charles Chaplin had intended to make a complete talkie. According to a documentary on the DVD release, Chaplin went so far as to film a scene with full dialogue before deciding instead to make a partial talkie.
The film shares many themes with René Clair's À Nous la Liberté (1931). That film's production company Tobis Film sued Charles Chaplin upon the release of Modern Times (1936) to no avail. They tried again after World War II, this time settling with Chaplin out of court. Clair - who was a great admirer of Chaplin - was thoroughly embarrassed by Tobis Film's course of actions.
According to a fall 1935 issue of Variety, Charles Chaplin was expected to run behind schedule on the release of the movie as he tweaked the soundtrack. He also wanted to chop over 1,000 feet of film from his then existing cut.