Modern Times (1936) – Charlie Chaplin


The Great Movies – 100 Years of Film continues to entertain as I continue to make my way through the 5 associated titles with The Gold Rush. This effort also directed and starring Chaplin features a rudimentary soundtrack, and is delightful fun.

Even in the 30s the continuing, striving pace of technology and progress seemed to be making people unhappy. When we first meet Chaplin’s Factory Worker/Tramp this time around, he is one cog on the assembly line machine, using two wrenches to tighten nuts before the piece he’s working on moves down the line. Unfortunately, his boss, speaking through a video screen and speaker (this and other sound effects fill the film) keep ordering the line to move faster and faster, the Tramp is consumed by his job, so that even when lunch is called, his body still tries to work, until he snaps, and starts chasing folks around with his wrenches.

Released from a psych ward after his near nervous breakdown, he learns that the factory is now closed, and he is but one of many who is jobless. He is mistakenly arrested as the leader of a workers’ movement, and settles quite comfortably into prison life – regular meals, a roof over his head – not so bad as far as he’s concerned. Things sour though when he foils a jailbreak and he’s released back into the public for good behavior.

assembly line

It is here that he meets a gamin, or street urchin, Ellen (Pauline Goddard), who is being pursued by the law for vagrancy and escaping the juvenile office, after her two sisters and she were taken there following her father’s death.

The two dream of getting a place together, a little home to call their own, but a job must be had, and kept, and that is tougher for both of them than they thought. The Tramp tries his hand at night watch man for a department store, making his rounds on roller skates before a trio of armed men show up. He also, thanks to Ellen’s help lands a job at a dining hall, where the waiters not only serve, but also perform musical numbers for their guests.


The dining room sequence as well as the department store bits are a lot of fun, especially the sequence which features the Tramp rollerskating blindfolded close to a treacherous looking fall. There’s also a fun sequence involving an automatic food feeder so workers don’t have to leave their station for work as well as one, where the Tramp and a mechanic are working on the machinery of the factory to get it in running order again.

As our two heroes try to get by as best they can, they can’t seem to get ahead, barely a step ahead of Ellen’s pursuers, and unable to hold onto a job.

The film is still a fun delight to watch, is fun, and family friendly. Simply watching Chaplin do what he does best as the strains of the immortal tune Smile weaves through the soundtrack is bound to bring a grin to your face!


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