Original release: 1936
Running length: 87 minutes
Modern Times is a humorous film with a powerful message. Carrying Chaplin’s trademark themes of hope and poverty, this picture focuses on the adverse effects machinery and other forms of technological advancements have on the common-folk, by pulling into the limelight a factory worker whose life goes through many twists and turns as he tries to cope with the new world. Though the slapstick is tear-jerkingly funny, it is all contained within a vessel of sadness. Modern Times utilizes smart, subtle elements to ask important philosophical questions every now and then. The climax is one of the most touching ever, involving a sad form of happiness and no real answer or resolution. This film may very well be Chaplin’s best-written work, and it is surprising how relevant the ideas presented here are even today. Having undoubtedly stood the test of time, the path Modern Times takes to share its thoughts is probably the best aspect of this cinematic triumph.
The Little Tramp punches in and wigs out inside a factory where gizmos like an employee-feeding machine may someday make the lunch hour last just 15 minutes. Bounced into the ranks of the unemployed, he teams with a street waif (Paulette Goddard) to pursue bliss and a paycheck, finding misadventures as a roller-skating night watchman, a singing waiter whose hilarious song is gibberish, a jailbird and more. In the end, as Tramp and waif walk arm and arm into an insecure future, we know they’ve found neither bliss nor a paycheck but, more importantly, each other.