Modern Times (1936)
Article 5547 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Charles Chaplin
Featuring Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman
What it is: Chaplin comedy
After he has a nervous breakdown on the job, the little tramp falls in love with a young woman and attempts to find a way to make a living in the modern world.
It’s a tribute to Chaplin’s star power that he was able to make what amounted to a silent movie this late in the sound era. This wasn’t, however, due to slavish idolatry of an antiquated convention; it had been intended as his first sound film, but it became apparent to Chaplin that his “little tramp” character worked best within the silent conventions. Chaplin actually makes very creative use of sound; it gives him control over the musical soundtrack, and he allows words to be heard at strategic moments. In fact, he even lets the tramp sing at one point, albeit in gibberish. This movie and CITY LIGHTS are often praised as Chaplin’s finest moments, but I have to confess I’m a hair disappointed at this one; despite the fact that much of the movie is brilliantly staged, I don’t find myself laughing very much, though I do appreciate both the satirical observations and the pathos. The fantastic contents are mostly confined to the scenes of the futuristic factory, full of enormous machines and closed-circuit televisions; I suspect Chaplin may have been a bit influenced by METROPOLIS here.