Charlie Chaplin's sentimental but keenly satirical swipe at the mechanization of everyday life is by consensus the last of the great silent features. Talkies were predominant in Hollywood as early as 1929, but this 1936 film reflects (and thematizes) Chaplin's resistance to change--though
we do hear his voice for the first time during a nonsense song.
As with most Chaplin, MODERN TIMES proceeds as a loosely linked series of comic and/or melodramatic setpieces. (One critic of the time complained that the film is really a quartet of two-reelers strung together: "The Shop," "The Jailbird," "The Watchman," and "The Singing Waiter.") The film
follows Chaplin's familiar tramp persona through a day at the factory (the feeding machine experiment and Charlie's work-induced twitches are highlights), his accidental arrest (and jailhouse encounter with cocaine) when he's labeled a Communist, a stint working at an emporium (where he again
displays the remarkable skating prowess he had first revealed in THE RINK twenty years earlier), and a brief engagement as a waiter, during which he's called upon suddenly to perform a song. Along the way he picks up and romances Paulette Goddard's impoverished waif. The narrative culminates in
the famous final image of Chaplin and Goddard on the road together, facing an uncertain future with unquenchable optimism.
Despite its loose-knit structure, this remarkable picture--three years in the making--presents a powerful and coherent indictment of the mechanized workplace and the post-Ford "industrialization" of everyday life. At the same time, MODERN TIMES stands as one of Chaplin's most perfectly balanced
mixtures of humor and pathos. The gags are impeccably timed and beautifully edited, and Chaplin's scenes with Paulette Goddard, in particular, glow with warmth. (Part of their chemistry doubtless stemmed from their offscreen love; she was Chaplin's third wife.)
The loving care that went into every detail of this film is evident, from Chaplin's own musical score to his makeshift sound effects (e.g., blowing bubbles in a pail of water to simulate a rumbling stomach). Chaplin would continue to delight audiences with his later movies, but all of them
featured recorded dialogue--after this one, the master of mime was forced to adapt to modern times.
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- Review: Charlie Chaplin's sentimental but keenly satirical swipe at the mechanization of everyday life is by consensus the last of the great silent features. Talkies were predominant in Hollywood as early as 1929, but this 1936 film reflects (and thematizes) Chapl… (more)