Modern Times (1936)

Silent – yet deadly!

Believe it or not (And if you were alive back in 1936, you will have seen it for yourself but probably don’t remember anymore so you still won’t believe it), all of those but the obvious and tacky “mad as hell” line are quite true of Charlie Chaplin’s last silent (And first talkie . . . so, it’s neither one, I suppose?) film. Not only that, but I could have gone on to describe this “harrowing tale” of his on-screen “rampage” as “he churns a man through a nightmarish assembly machine of gears and rollers! He defies the law! He tears a house to pieces with his bare hands!” And so on.

In the interest of seriousness, however, I must admit that Modern Times is entirely innocent (Although, yeah, the crack-snorting in prison is weird to include in such a film) and quite entertaining. And there is a damn fine joke about nipples early on, but you’re still not going to mistake Modern Times for having been made anytime near our “actual” modern times.

As is expected of a Chaplin film, there is a lot of hilarious penguin-walking and quite a lot of the movie plays in fast-forward. The pace is, frankly, unmatched in modern times; it may be under an hour and a half long but it’ll seem like you’ve seen way too much for such a short amount of time. Most of the gags are still very funny (The only one I can think of that I flat-out didn’t understand was a tea-drinking sequence in prison, where a “proper” lady’s stomach along with Chaplin’s start making funny noises as a result of their drinks. That was the gag, as far as I can tell), and the female lead (Paulette Goddard) is still beautiful in her 25-years-old state. I probably thought up the joke for this review as a result of Chaplin genuinely seeming a little creepy to me when we get close-ups of him and her at the same time. Oh, and I didn’t realize the mob of protesters near the beginning were Communists at first, until I worked the “Well, Chaplin’s holding a grey flag that probably would be red if this were in color” angle.

What else can I say? It’s a Charlie Chaplin movie, no matter WHO you are you probably know what to expect from it. His physical humor is must-see, and it’s also a bit interesting to note how some elements of this movie are allowed to have spoken dialogue and sound effects, while the movie still feels entirely silent otherwise (And retains the “speech cards” approach to silent dialogue for the words that come out of humans – as opposed to radios and speakers). I believe the one exception is where Chaplin sings an understandable song in gibberish. Why did he do that, you ask?Cocaine is one hell of a drug.

[Edit] I forgot to mention the use of a cooked chicken as a funnel (Despite it being something I literally wrote down so I wouldn’t forget it, as if it was something important and vital to this review). I loved that, almost as much as I liked when Chaplin turns his ear to spurt out a last puff of stolen smoke.

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