Comedy Monday: Modern Times (1936)

16 05 2011

With Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” we see the end of a genre. Yes, this was the very last silent movie ever made, although there was still some spoken word it is used sparingly and under certain guidelines. Nevertheless “Modern Times” is a classic Chaplin movie; the Tramp is down on his luck and gets himself into several confusing yet hilarious situations. In his final foray as the tramp, Chaplin is a factory worker who obviously messes things up and ends up getting arrested. In jail he helps thwart a break-out and is granted early release, only he doesn’t want to leave. He likes it in jail. So he does his very best to get arrested again causing him to meet the lovely Paulette Goddard. She plays a feisty Gamin, living on the streets before getting caught in an attempt to steal bread. The Tramp helps her escape and they join up, dreaming of living in a house together and finding a way to get by. There are several twists and turns along the way, as well as many great Chaplin moments, giving us one of the best movies of the silent genre. It is funny, makes commentary on the advancement of technology, and shows us that some times we don’t need a lot to be happy.

Hey you! Get back to work!

Charlie Chaplin films all have much more to say beyond the exceptional physical comedy they possess, and “Modern Times” is no different. In the beginning Chaplin works in an assembly line and acts exactly like a machine, seeming like it is only a matter of time before that job closes up to be replaced by one. Soon after he gets to witness the Billows Feeding Machine firsthand, a machine made to help one with eating… hilarity ensues. With the Tramp constantly attempting to find a job and disasters occurring every time machinery is used one can’t help to come away with anti-technology feel. Despite his trouble with technology, the Tramp is still looking for jobs in factories to help get him and the Gamin a house to live in. When she finds a place; a small, broken down house on the water, they are both very happy, just as happy as the Tramp’s fantasy of this moment was. Echoing these sentiments was the very final words shown: “Buck up – never say die. We’ll get along!”

“The Mechanical Salesman”

“Modern Times” features some of the most elaborate of Chaplin’s gags and some of the best. His humor starts off with a bang from the very first scene and carries throughout the rest of the movie. Some were very simple while others extremely elaborate like when he dives down a mechanical shoot and we see the cross-section of him traveling through gears. Another time we see an excellent roller-blading scene that gets a small nod in the “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Chaplin is certainly on top of his game and every scene gets at least one memorable moment of great comedy. “Modern Times” marked the end of an era, not just the end of the Silent Film genre but also one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history as this would be the last movie to feature the Tramp, and he goes out with a bang.

It is amazing to think that in only two short years the colorful “The Adventure of Robin Hood” would come along. The ’30s were an extraordinary decade in film and Modern Times is one of the best from it. It may not have the sentimentalism that “City Lights” does but it still has a lot to say beyond the gags.

Score: 97/100

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