By 1936, sound films had taken over. Silents were already a thing of the past, and it hadn’t even been a decade since the advent of the “talkie”. Yet, four years prior to this weeks movie, Charlie Chaplin released his greatest silent film, City Lights.
Reluctant to change to the new technology, Chaplin decided to poke fun at sound one last time. Even though it is technically a sound film, Modern Times spends more time as a silent film than a talkie.
The film follows our lovable Little Tramp as he works in a factory. He is nothing more than a repetitive robot, performing the same tasks over and over. He has a breakdown and is sent out into the streets, where he is mistaken for a crime, sent to jail, released, and it becomes a cycle. He meets the Gamin (Paulette Goddard) and they try to make their way in these modern times.
Of course, the movie is full of Chaplin’s wonderful humor. From huge set pieces, to his final gibberish song, Chaplin was at the top of his form here. Sadly, it was the final film that featured his Tramp character. After Modern Times, he would follow up with The Great Dictator, but the presence of the Tramp was missing. I wrote a paper analyzing the Tramp as a means to connect with the audience through pathos, and in the history of cinema, no other character has appeared so often to make us feel and laugh. The Tramp was ever relevant, making note of the current social issues and proceeding to poke fun at them.
Modern Times is the last great “silent” film of Chaplin, and it deserves to be seen by everyone. It is also a goodbye to the Tramp, and those who see the him and the Gamin walking down the road in the final shot towards a better tomorrow will never understand the impact this character had over his 20 year run in dozens of short films and several feature length.
So, if you want to see a great comedy that pokes fun at industrialization and the final film of one of the most beloved movie characters, check this out.