Review: Modern Times (1936)

Based on my work record, I am a slightly heavier version of Charlie Chaplin!

Written By: Charles Chaplin
Directed By: Charles Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin is hilarious, that is the long and the short of his career. Modern Times is viewed as his masterpiece by some, and while I wouldn’t agree, it is a terrific movie full of the usual Chaplin laughs along with some unexpected social commentary to boot. Modern Times isn’t a great film because of any elaborate set-ups or jokes that strive to be funny, Modern Times is funny because it is heartfelt and straight forward in its laughs. Chaplin knocks himself on the head, loses his boss in the machinery, uses cocaine as a dinner topping, etc.. Every scenario works because it is honest, simple and hilariously funny as a result.

Chaplin himself is always the main course of discussion following his movies, but with Modern Times I was most interested in the funny man taking on such hard issues as modernization, workers rights, the depression, gender roles and so much more. Going into Modern Times I’m sure people expected the usual Chaplin hilarity, and no doubt they were taken by his subtle, and unexpected, social commentary thinly veiled beneath laughs. Chaplin goes insane as a worker, but he’s not actually insane, it’s the inhumane work hours and hectic pace he is expected to keep that take their toll on him. If all that matters is the bottom dollar then what happens to our humanity? Chaplin took a long hard look at the world around him and the ills that were cropping up everywhere, or had been in place in some form or another for eons. All of this delivered by the man who made a name for himself as the Little Tramp.

In Modern Times there is an inherent sweetness to everything because of the relationship, and actions, between Chaplin as his usual Tramp and Paulette Goddard as his gamin. There love is small, simple and so sweet because it refuses to be tarnished by the world around them. No matter what happens they will have each other, and even if their actual perfect home is nowhere near the ideal perfect home, it is perfect to them because they have each other. Beyond that there is a loveliness to watching the two actors, and real life husband and wife (although never factually proven), weave in and around each other. They prance, dance, laugh, smile and most of all they leave you with that feeling that happens after you have just taken a healthy bite of glorious pecan pie. Love can conquer all, Modern Times is proof of that.

Yes, like a lot of comedies there were a few moments that fell flat, but only a few and like most Chaplin jokes they were still endearing in nature. Modern Times is a masterpiece of cinema, it is the introduction of Chaplin to the talkie film, even if he still runs it as a silent for the most part. Something I didn’t even go into in my review was Chaplin’s use of sound for the first time and how it was always filtered through some secondary source in rather brilliant fashion. Outside of my takes on the film people need to see Modern Times because it is funny and because every person who sees it will take something different away from the experience. But most of all, see Modern Times because it is a sweet and honest comedy, the type that was already dying out by 1936 and is nearly nonexistent today.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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2 responses to “Review: Modern Times (1936)

  1. Modern Times is actually the least favorite of the Chaplin films I’ve seen. However, this is only because I’ve only seen four and the other three were City Lights, Great Dictator, and Gold Rush. Actually, I might give this the edge of Great Dictator. Either way, it’s no less a masterpiece.

  2. Hmmm, I’m not a fan of The Great Dictator, the comedy didn’t hit as much for me and I found the final speech to be self-satisfaction that was not in line with the picture. I do love Chaplin though, and the majority of his silents.

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