Movie Project #4: Modern Times [1936]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Modern Times [1936]

Modern Times [1936]
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard and Henry Bergman
Runtime: 87 minutes

In last year’s movie project, I included Charlie Chaplin’s classic City Lights, one of only a handful of selections that I gave an elusive 10/10 score to. My love for that film inspired me to watch The Gold Rush, another fun endeavor from The Tramp, but I didn’t get the chance to dig any deeper into his filmography. I made sure to include another for this year’s project: Modern Times.

By 1936, talkie pictures were all the rage, yet Chaplin felt inclined to make one last silent movie. Well, mostly silent anyway. Modern Times occasionally uses vocals from authority figures, as well as sound effects. The Tramp character himself is silent for the entire runtime, except for one bizarre foray into a song and dance number that uses a made-up language.

Modern Times is a varied mix of satire, slapstick, drama and romance, a delightful mashup of genres that Chaplin does oh so well. This time around The Tramp is a factory worker who suffers a nervous breakdown as he struggles to keep up with the ever-increasing work rate, costing him his job. He ends up in a mental hospital, gets released and then finds himself in jail. A series of hilarious events pushes the Tramp back on the streets, and a chance encounter leads him to his love interest: a wild gamine girl (Goddard). The two of them form a unique partnership, with the Tramp looking for work while the gamine keeps their “house” (a run-down shack) tidy. Society has shunned both of them, and they seem to be kindred spirits.

Modern Times [1936]

While Chaplin is terrific as always, I found myself to be most impressed with Paulette Goddard. She looks unlike any other actress I have seen from this time period, a real beauty with unforgettable eyes. It seems silly to have a “crush” on a woman who was my age nearly 80 years ago, but it’s easy to see why Chaplin himself fell in love with her and eventually married her as well.

There are many memorable moments in Modern Times. One early gag shows the Tramp struggling to keep up with the assembly line in comical fashion. This scene inspired a similar event in the TV show I Love Lucy, which is unforgettable in its own right. I got a kick out of the Tramp accidentally ingesting “nose powder” (bet you can guess what that is), as well as his later bout where he unknowingly is the recipient of a streaming fountain of rum. I found myself laughing quite a bit throughout, actually.

I am glad that I included Modern Times in this project. There are plenty of great gags, and it’s a lot of fun to watch Chaplin and Goddard together. Just an entertaining movie all around, and one that is more than worthy of its classic status.


21 thoughts on “Movie Project #4: Modern Times [1936]

  1. rtm says:

    Hi Eric, I’ve been wanting to see a classic silent film ever since I saw The Artist. I don’t think I’ve seen a Chaplin film in its entirety so I might start w/ this one. Interesting that this is his last ‘silent’ film w/ the emergence of ‘talkies’ in the mid 30s.

    • Eric says:

      You know, Modern Times would actually be a terrific complement to The Artist. Both movies play around with the dynamics of sound while predominantly remaining silent. For my favorite Chaplin so far, though, I would recommend City Lights. Then again, you can’t go wrong with either one. Hope you’re able to see one soon!

    • Eric says:

      I have a feeling you will enjoy it just as much today, but it would be fun to see how it compares to what you remember as a kid. Could be a fun blog post. 🙂

  2. John says:

    This is one of my favorite Chaplins, just a tick below Monsieur Verdoux (and that has more to do with my twisted sense of humor than anything, that Chaplin would play a serial killer).

  3. John says:

    Also, I’m not sure if you’ve ever done any Buster Keaton, but he goes hand in hand with Chaplin and, to a lesser degree, Harold Lloyd. Not to rain on the Chaplin parade because he’s great, but I wouldn’t be doing my job as a Damfino if I didn’t encourage others to check out Keaton.

    • Eric says:

      I have seen three Keaton movies — The General, Steamboat Bill Jr, and Sherlock Jr — and loved all three. I was all set to include Sherlock Jr in this project but ended up watching it before I made my final list. Those three movies seem to be mentioned most, but I would like to see more. Where should I go next?

      • John says:

        Those are definitely the big three, the most widely known and critically acclaimed. That said, I’m a HUGE fan of Seven Chances. It’s my favorite, even more than Sherlock/Steamboat Bill Jr. and The General. Go West and College are both also very funny, and all of his 1917-1928 shorts are worth 20 minutes of your time.

        The Camerman is sort of great, too, although not as much as the others mentioned here.

  4. maroon5gurl88 says:

    I hate to admit my Chaplin films are lacking. I saw Modern Times in a film class a long time ago, and other than that I’ve only seen the biopic film Chaplin (although Robert Downey Jr. did a fantastic job portraying The Little Tramp). I definitely need to make time over the summer to watch some Chaplin

    • Eric says:

      I ought to watch that biopic sometime. I actually know very little about Chaplin post-silent films, so it would be interesting to learn more about his later years. If you’re looking for a Chaplin recommendation, you should take a look at City Lights. Such an amazing movie, a genuine 10/10 in my book.

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