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Modern Times (1936)

Chaplins last 'silent' film, filled with sound effects, was made when everyone else was making
talkies. Charlie turns against modern society, the machine age, (The use of sound in films ?) and
progress. Firstly we see him frantically trying to keep up with a production line, tightening bolts.
He is selected for an experiment with an automatic feeding machine, but various mishaps leads
his boss to believe he has gone mad, and Charlie is sent to a mental hospital... When he gets
out, he is mistaken for a communist while waving a red flag, sent to jail, foils a jailbreak, and is let
out again. We follow Charlie through many more escapades before the film is out.

Charles Chaplin... A factory worker (as Charlie Chaplin)

Paulette Goddard ... A gamin
Henry Bergman ... Cafe proprietor
Tiny Sandford ... Big Bill (as Stanley Sandford)
Chester Conklin... Mechanic
Hank Mann ... Burglar
Stanley Blystone ... Gamin's father
Al Ernest Garcia ... President of the Electro Steel Corp. (as Allan Garcia)
Richard Alexander ... Cellmate (as Dick Alexander)

XVid / MP3

Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) is the final film to feature the great actor/director/writer's
most easily recognizable incarnation: The Tramp. Here is a character that is so ingrained in the
collective conscious of modern film audiences that many recognize him despite the fact that they
have not seen a single Chaplin film. Indeed, several iconographic studies have labeled The
Tramp (with his worn hat, distinctive mustache, dusty suit, cane, and trademark waddle) as the
single most identifiable fictional image in history.

Still, the film that perhaps most influenced the creation and thematic realization of Modern Times
was not even a silent one. The Jazz Singer, which debuted in 1927, five years before Modern
Times began production, is perhaps the most important watershed film in the industry's century-
old history. In the film, comic great Al Jolson stands up in front of the audience and...sings. And as
Millard Mitchell said in Singin' in the Rain, the public was suddenly in a frenzy for "Talking
pictures! Talking pictures!" Sadly, with the advent of synchronized sound and dialogue, the world
of silent filmmaking began to slip into obscurity with audiences and studios now viewing it as
obsolete and undesirable. Nevertheless, Chaplin continued his passion for the subtle craft by
creating City Lights (1931), which many critics and academics consider one of the greatest films
ever made, but by the time Modern Times was released, Chaplin was one of the last directors left
clinging to a dying art.

Modern Times is not an entirely silent film, (there are dialogue snippets and sound effects), but if
you look closely, every character with dialogue (excluding Chaplin himself) is being mocked. Even
when The Tramp opens his mouth (the only time he ever did so in a film), the words are
nonsensical, defying the burgeoning convention that dialogue is mandatory for substance,
entertainment, and quality.

Despite the film's status as one of the greatest comedies of all-time, it is hard to ignore the
political component. In his movies, Chaplin often exhibited a great mistrust for authority and
progress, as often embodied through the social elite, the police, and wealthy entrepreneurs. The
irony of the film's title, then, is two-fold. It connects with Chaplin's own bitter feelings regarding his
moribund art form, but also refers to the plight of the working classes during the Great Depression
(long working hours with little job security and meager salary, while the upper classes remain
wealthy and bide their idle time) The world was changing fast, and Chaplin foresaw that many of
these changes were far from beneficial.

As we watch The Tramp struggle through the modern, mechanized world, we laugh at his antics
and the absurdity of their results, but we can also feel pain and pity. He is clearly a man who does
not belong. Indeed, The Tramp can almost be thought of as a misfit who has passed through a
membrane from some alternate reality and unwittingly fallen into our familiar world (notice that he
does not have a name or identification of any kind, and as far as we know, he has no friends,
family, funds, or history).

He takes on assembly lines, feeding machines, department stores, policemen and various other
mass-oriented aspects of the industrialized world (all which demand and exhibit sameness and
conformity), but The Tramp (and his symbolic extension, the individual) never seem to fit.

This is, consequently, why Modern Times is also one of the most poignant love stories ever put
on film. The only character who is on the same level as The Tramp is a young, homeless woman
who is referred to as "The Gamin" and is played by Chaplin's then-wife, Paulette Goddard. These
two are brought together by the fact they have almost nothing except the will to live and continue
forward, despite adversity. Both are nameless, neither has a home, and they each have no
money or material possessions.

It is here that Chaplin makes his most poignant and saddening statement about modern living.
The Tramp and The Gamin are the only characters who exhibit individuality and idealism, yet they
are also the ones lowest on the social and economic food chain. The conclusion of the film, which
most likely reflects upon Chaplin's own emotions, is tinged with sadness, but also a lingering
hopefulness that resonates as loudly and clearly today as it did more than sixty years ago.

Then there is, of course, the comedy, which is the stuff of legendary status. Some of the most
memorable comic images in film history are found in Modern Times. These include The Tramp's
bout with an assembly line (and his resulting twitches), his unfortunate encounter with "nose-
powder", the moment when he quite literally becomes a cog in the wheels of industry, and his
epic struggle to bring roast duck to an angry customer.

In my opinion, however, the two standout moments are the scene in a department store involving
a blindfold and some rollerskates (the most exquisite moment of comedy in the film) and the
sequence where The Tramp is submitted to the mad whim of an out-of-control feeding machine
(the most uproarious moment in the film).

These are just a handful of moments that make Modern Times the enduring masterpiece that it is.
On a personal level, the aspect of the film that resonates strongest with me is its appeal to the
idealistic misfit in all of us. In our hearts, many of us long for the simplicity and exuberance with
which The Tramp and The Gamin live life (with attention to the bare essentials and an absence of
need for materialism and modern trappings).

As Chaplin so skillfully shows, however, our modern times make this lifestyle a faded dream, lost
among the sheep-like herds of men and women scurrying through a modern metropolis that only
Fritz Lang could make seem darker and more devoid of true humanity. Still, the final image of
Modern Times refuses to let the film end on an exclusively tragic note and demonstrates that the
individual is still alive and may yet find his way in an ever-changing world.

* Supposedly was to be Charles Chaplin's first full sound film, but instead, sound is used in a
unique way: we hear spoken voices only when they come from mechanical devices, a symbol of
the film's theme of technology and dehumanization. Specifically, voices are heard from:

o The videophones used by the factory president

o The phonographic Mechanical Salesman
o The radio in the prison warden's office
* The singers in the restaurant are also heard, and some scenes include sound effects.

* The Little Tramp's last words before his final fade out after more than 22 years as a screen
icon: "Smile! C'mon!" (it is easy to read Charles Chaplin's lips at the very end of the film).

* Charles Chaplin allows the Tramp to speak on camera for the first time during the restaurant
scene, but insisted that what the Tramp says be universal. Therefore, the song the Tramp sings is
in gibberish, but it is possible to follow the story he tells by watching his hand gestures.

* Paulette Goddard's character's name is Ellen Peterson.

* The film originally ended with Charles Chaplin's character suffering a nervous breakdown and
being visited in hospital by the gamin, who has now become a nun. This ending was filmed,
though apparently only still photographs from the scene exist today (they are included in the 2003
DVD release of the film). Chaplin dropped this ending and shot a different, more hopeful ending

* This was one of the films which, because of its political sentiments, convinced the House Un-
American Activities Committee that Charles Chaplin was a Communist, a charge he adamantly
denied. He left to live in Switzerland, vowing never to return to America.

* A full dialogue script was written for the film, as Charles Chaplin had intended to make a
complete talkie. According to a documentary on the DVD release, Chaplin went so far as to film a
scene with full dialogue before deciding instead to make a partial talkie.

* Discounting later parodies and novelty films, this was the last major American film to make
use of silent film conventions such as title cards for dialogue. The very last dialogue title card of
this film (and thus, it can be said, the entire silent era) belongs to The Tramp, who says "Buck up
- never say die! We'll get along."

* Co-star Paulette Goddard actually made significant story contributions.

* France's Tobis Studios sued Charles Chaplin for plagiarizing the conveyor belt sequence from
Ren Clair's nous la libert (1931) but dropped the suit when Clair declared himself honored by
the tribute, saying, "I have certainly borrowed enough from him."

* According to a fall 1935 issue of Variety, Charles Chaplin was expected to run behind
schedule on the release of the movie as he tweaked the soundtrack. He also wanted to chop over
1,000 feet of film from his then existing cut.

* According to Paulette Goddard, Chaplin was deeply and profoundly involved in the recording
of the musical score. He spent days upon days in the recording studio writing themes, and only
left when Paulette begged him.

* In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #78 Greatest Movie of All Time.