Review: Modern Times

Incredible how a film made in 1936 can have so much social and economical subtext in “modern times”!

Charlie Chaplin plays a gormless but talented man working a repetitive job in a factory, only for a nervous breakdown to cause him losing his position, only to wind up in jail over a misunderstanding! But before misfortune makes his life any worse, he meets an unemployed but lively young woman (Paulette Goddard) who shares his plight, could she be his salvation?

My first impression was a puzzled one; here is a silent film (with dialogue screens and all) that includes spoken dialogue! (being one of the last major silent films produced) It is clear that this is an interesting device as all the spoken audio is through machinery: radios, monitors etc, suggesting it is more the sound from a machine than from a human being.
There’s a great creativity and comedy here, of course Chaplin’s physical abilities stand out, but an early scene in the factory where he is subject to testing an automated lunch feeding machine is gold! Great expressions and great mechanical props. Paulette Goddard makes for a great other half to Chaplin, she has his physical ability and dazing expressions, making them have a great chemistry.

The film has a great weight to it, thematically, capturing The Depression in its undertones which of course relates well with today! We see unemployment high, workers strikes, people struggling to find jobs and people working so methodically and systematically that it makes them almost inhuman! Of course, it is a comedy, and it is very funny and entertaining, but I couldn’t help but see these concepts coming through!

I can’t think of many things wrong with the film! Perhaps some of the comedic scenarios last a little too long, and the music goes from brilliantly effective to a little bit repetitive. But these are terribly small things and the excellent film making outweighs them!

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