Modern Times (1936) Director: Charlie Chaplin
Chaplin’s iconic film is a commentary on the absurdity of modern technological efficiency. Appropriately, it is also a social protest against the advent of synchronized sound in “talkie” films. It is Chaplin’s last ‘silent’ film and is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression.
The story opens with a memorable scene of the “the tramp” being overworked on an assembly line. When he sits down to lunch, he is amusingly force fed by a malfunctioning machine. The monotony rapidly drives him mad as he cannot stop tightening things frantically like the nuts and bolts on the conveyor belt. The company sends him off for psychiatric treatment. Once released he decides to start a new life, but unknowingly picks up a red flag that has fallen off a passing car, which turns out to be a part of a communist rally. For this, the tramp is picked up and placed in jail by the police. While in jail he accidentally ingests cocaine that another inmate hid in disguise in a saltshaker. He then wanders into a jailbreak in progress, but he unwittingly knocks out the escaping inmates and frees the imprisoned guards who then release the tramp, much to his dismay. The tramp has grown to love the convenience of prison life. His hi-jinx lead him into a failed job as a watchman in which he is mistakenly imprisoned again. Eventually, he goes to live with a homeless girl down by the lake in a shack, and he sneaks his way into another job at the factory, but the workers go on strike and the tramp loses his job again and is imprisoned. Once freed he and the girl get jobs at a restaurant as singers, but the authorities follow them and they flee together. Dejected they walk off into a comically silly sunset down a country road together as the movie ends.
The film was one of Chaplin’s longest productions, as filming lasted from 1932-1936, and was written, directed, starred, and produced by Chaplin. He starred with his then current wife, Paulette Goddard. It was his first film since City Lights in 1931.
Modern Times is an excellent film, inspired apparently by a conversation Chaplin had with Mahatma Gandhi about the destructive forced of modern technology. It is one of Chaplin’s greatest achievements and still remains a timely and amusing classic of cinema.