Modern Times (1936)
"Modern Times" showcases an era long gone. At this point in time, Charlie Chaplin's career was in a steady state of decline. Ever since "The Jazz Singer" and the innovation of sound, Chaplin had to combat loud and flashy movies with nothing but facial expressions and music.
After "Modern Times", the famous director/writer/actor made less than ten movies and then retired. With this film, we see the beginning of the end of Chaplin's incredible career.
This first thing to note about the movie, is that it's not technically silent...yet, it is. Some sound and singing appear in places; but for the most part, we hear nothing except the brilliant score.
Undoubtedly the master of silent cinema, Chaplin proves his worth in spades with "Modern Times".
An unnamed factory worker played by Chaplin is lost in a world of high-speed industry. His job is so high stress and fast-paced that at every break he has nervous twitches. Funny as always (though in a dark way), he is subjected to the cruelty of efficiency.
His boss is approached with a feeding machine. It is designed to feed workers without a lunch break, so they can work and eat simultaneously. At first, it works; but then it starts to pummel Chaplin with corn, soup, and pies. Funny, right?
Suffering a nervous breakdown that manifests itself with an obsession to tighten bolts and spray people's faces with oil, the factory worker is put in a mental hospital. After a short period of time, he is released and told to avoid loud noises, stress, and anxiety.
Trying to be a good samaritan, he gets mistaken for a leader of the Communist party and is thrown in jail.
The other main character in "Modern Times" is a gamin played by Paulette Goddard. She is beautiful and determined not to starve on the streets.
While in jail, the worker is having a great time. He foils several other prisoners's plans to escape and gets "promoted". He gets his own cell and often mingles with the guards.
Once he is released, he is determined to get back to jail—because he had fun there.
It's this want to return to jail that has the worker and the gamin's paths crossing.
"Modern Times" is a social commentary of the times it represents. Though full of stunts and funny moments, it's actually quite melancholy. Comments about cocaine, orphans, and communism are made; as well as stating that this high-powered industry causes mental breakdowns.
"Modern Times" is about 'the machine' of business more than it is about a relationship between a homeless woman and a factory worker.
Yet the film is serenely beautiful amidst its undeniably funny moments.
"Modern Times" is a masterpiece of time and era.
The movie is also somewhat determined, it has a layer of bitterness and compliance in it. When Chaplin made this movie, it was to prove to audiences that silent films could still be powerful and successful.
For Chaplin, it was a lost cause. The film was a mediocre hit, but nothing like what he intended it to be.
It ushered in the end of the director's great career.
"Modern Times" has aged so well, it's still incredibly entertaining and visually stunning. Some of the stunts, like works of Buster Keaton, are incredible. Chaplin can turn something like roller-skating around an emptied toy shop into a suspense, beautiful, and humorous scene.
It's a kaleidoscope of emotions that Chaplin handles masterfully. While the analysis of the film may bog you down with its morbid overtones, keep in mind the ending.
With its final scene "Modern Times" turns the corner. It looks to the future with a smile.
Perhaps it reflects Chaplin's personal struggles and the results of those. This is what I would like to think.
Anyway you look at it, "Modern Times" is one of the greatest milestones of silent cinema.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones