Modern Times Review

Number 38 on the top 1000 films of all time is Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 and last silent film ‘Modern Times.’

Charlie Chaplin once again plays his iconic Little Tramp character, as he struggles through life in modern times.  In this silent film, the Tramp works in an industrial factory, is caught in a communist riot, accidentally snorts cocaine, whilst trying to find ways to make money for his love interest Ellen Peterson, played by his real-life wife Paulette Goddard.

Just like City Lights, all of the this film’s humour came from slapstick and physical comedy performed by Chaplin itself.  Chaplin performed the comedy well and it generally hit its mark.  One of the best examples comes from when Chaplin is working as a waiter for a fancy dinner.  Chaplin tries to get a roast duck to a diner, but is impeded by a large group of guests on the dance floor.  When Chaplin finally makes it to the client who has been getting progressively angrier, Chaplin realises that the roast duck has been impaled on a chandelier and Chaplin has to return to get it. 

Another example is that Chaplin is also supposed to sing at the dinner for its entertainment.  Not knowing the words, he writes them on the cuff of his shirt.  However, upon stepping onto the stage, his cuff comes flying off and Chaplin improvises by stringing together sentences of random Italian words.  Both of these instances were very funny and great examples of the film’s physical comedy.  

When making this film, Chaplin wanted to comment on the rise of industrialisation and the alienation that ensued because of it.  I think Modern Times portrayed this well and conveyed Chaplin’s distaste of constant efforts to improve the production process leading to mass unemployment and alienation.  In one of the film’s best scenes, Chaplin is subjected to a machine, which feeds him whilst he is working, to maximise efficiency.  This, of course, fails miserably, but it is still funny and interesting to watch. Unfortunately, like City Lights, this film didn’t keep my interest throughout and I did get bored at times. But overall it was sweet and funny and the comedy worked well.

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