Modern Times is a 1936 comedy film by Charlie Chaplin that has his famous Little Tramp character struggling to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during the Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization. The movie stars Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sandford and Chester Conklin. It was written and directed by Chaplin, and marked the final screen appearance of the iconic Tramp character.
Modern Times portrays Charlie Chaplin as a factory worker, employed on an assembly line. After being subjected to such indignities as being force-fed by a 'modern' feeding machine and an accelerating assembly line where Chaplin screws nuts at an ever-increasing rate onto pieces of machinery, he suffers a mental breakdown. Chaplin is sent to a hospital. Following his recovery the now unemployed Chaplin is mistakenly arrested for leading a Communist demonstration when he was only attempting to return a flag that fell off a delivery truck. In jail, he accidentally eats smuggled cocaine - believing it to be salt. In his subsequent state he walks into a jailbreak and knocks out the convicts. He is hailed a hero and is released.
Outside the jail, he discovers life is harsh, and attempts to get arrested after failing to get a decent job. He soon runs into an orphan girl (a gamine) who is fleeing the police after stealing a loaf of bread. To save the girl he tells police that he is the thief and ought to be arrested. However, a witness reveals his deception and he is freed. In order to get arrested again, he eats an enormous amount of food in a cafe without paying. He meets up with the gamine in the paddy wagon which crashes, and they escape. Dreaming of a better life, he gets a job as a night watchman at a department store, sneaks the homeless gamine into the store, and even lets burglars have some food. Waking up the next morning in a pile of clothes, he is arrested once more.
Ten days later, the gamine takes him to a new home - a run-down shack which she admits "isn't Buckingham Palace" but will do. The next morning, the worker reads about a new factory and lands a job there. He helps extricate his boss out of machinery, before the other workers' demonstrations. Accidentally paddling a brick into a policeman, he is arrested again. Two weeks later, he is released and learns that the gamine is a cafe dancer, and she tries to get him a job as a singer. By night, he becomes an efficient waiter though he finds it difficult to tell the difference between the "in" and "out" doors to the kitchen, or to successfully deliver a roast duck to table. During his floor show, he loses a cuff that bears the lyrics of his song, but he rescues his act by improvising the words in gibberish while pantomiming. His act proves a hit. When police arrive to arrest the gamine for her earlier escape, they escape again. Finally, we see them walking down a road at dawn, towards an uncertain but hopeful future.
- Charlie Chaplin as a factory worker
- Paulette Goddard as a gamine, named Ellen Peterson
- Henry Bergman as a Cafe proprietor
- Chester Conklin as a Mechanic
- Stanley Sandford as Big Bill
- Hank Mann as a Burglar
- Stanley Blystone as Gamine's father
- Allan Garcia as President of the Electro Steel Corp.
- Director: Charles Chaplin
- Producer: Charles Chaplin
- Screenwriter: Charles Chaplin
- Director of Photography: Rollie Totheroh, Ira Morgan
Chaplin began preparing the film in 1934 as his first "talkie", and went as far as writing a dialogue script and experimenting with some sound scenes. However, he soon abandoned these attempts and reverted to a silent format with synchronized sound effects. The dialogue experiments confirmed his long-standing conviction that the universal appeal of the Tramp would be lost if the character ever spoke on screen. Indeed, this film marks the Tramp's last screen appearance, and is arguably the final film of the silent era. Most of the film was shot at "silent speed", 18 frames per second, which when projected at "sound speed", 24 frames per second, makes the slapstick action appear even more frenetic. Available prints of the film now correct this.
Although not a "talkie," Modern Times does include a synchronized sound track featuring foley effects, music, singers, and voices coming from radios, loudspeakers, and a Telescreen in the washroom. Towards the end of the film the Little Tramp's voice is heard for the first time as he ad-libs pseudo-French and Italian gibberish to the tune of Léo Daniderff's popular song, Je cherche après Titine.
The reference to drugs seen in the prison sequence is somewhat daring for the time (since the production code, established in 1930, forbade the depiction of illegal drug use in films); Chaplin had made drug references before in one of his most famous short films Easy Street, released in 1917.
The music score was composed by Chaplin himself, and arranged with the assistance of Alfred Newman. The romance theme was later given lyrics, and became the pop standard "Smile", first recorded by Nat King Cole and later covered by such artists as Michael Jackson, Liberace, Judy Garland, and Madeleine Peyroux.
Modern Times is often hailed as one of Chaplin's greatest achievements, and it remains one of his more popular films. The iconic depiction of Chaplin working frantically to keep up with an assembly line inspired later comedy routines including Disney's Der Fuehrer's Face, an episode of I Love Lucy titled "Job Switching", and most recently, an episode of Drake & Josh.
This was Chaplin's first overtly political-themed film, and its unflattering portrayal of industrial society generated controversy in some quarters upon its initial release.
It is important to note that in this Chaplin film, Modern Times, that all the sounds in the film only came from and through machines such as a television or display (Boss yells at him through this device), a phonograph, radio, and machines (sounds of machinery). The reason this is important because all these sounds are used to dehumanize the main character, a factory worker. Also, this film gives us an aspect of how the average factory felt like in those times, because you see how the main character is put under immense pressure (by the head boss and his supervisor) to perform his duties, far beyond his physical abilities.