Modern Times

AFI Rank: #81
Year Released: 1936
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Actors: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

Set during the harsh times of the Great Depression, Modern Times was deep into talking movie years but Charlie Chaplin kept his traditional silence for his main character. This was Chaplin's last silent film, as he finally gave in to the modern world's demands. We watch as the factory worker - nameless - gets ground down by his super-repetitive job of simply twisting nuts all day long. No wonder people had work injuries in these days! He quickly is booted from his job and has to struggle to survive in a world where there are few jobs.

In a nearby part of town, a gamine (waif-girl) is stealing food to survive with her two younger sisters and her out-of-work father. In short order her father is shot and killed, leaving the three girls alone. While the foster system takes away the two younger girls, Gamine (as they call her) takes off on them to live on the streets.

In short order, Chaplin (who is 47 in the movie) is chasing after this waif who is below legal age. Yes, this bugs me quite a bit :). The girl is being chased throughout the movie by the juvie services trying to get her back into the system. At the same time, a nearly-50 guy is hugging her and making eyes at her. No wonder the officials think she needs to be protected.

There's the usual slapstick humor, including one scene with Chaplin skating blindfolded near an open balcony. He gets sucked into giant gears and for the first time ever we get to hear him sing, as he makes up a nonsense song on the spot.

But I just can't enjoy the ending. This Gamine ran out on her two innocent younger sisters and never looks back. She tucks her arm into that of the man who is nearly her grandfather's age and walks on down the road, abandoning her siblings to the system. As much as the factory machinery is harsh on people, the child services system of the 30s was even more rough. Gamine seems to not care at all about her younger sisters who are now being mashed in its teeth.

Certainly good to watch in terms of a "transitional" movie. Chaplin has three different movies in the AFI top 100, and the other two are fully silent. This is his final movie in this style, and many say he is at the top of his game here. So it's nice to appreciate his talents. But as far as plot goes, I wish they'd made her older, and had her as a single child. That would reduce some of the creepy / pedophile / inappropriate feelings I get watching this. Surely the movie would have been just as good if she was for example a young woman caring for her grandfather, and he dies, leaving her alone.

Buy Modern Times from Amazon.com

AFI Top 100 Film Listing
Male vs Female Actors in the AFI Top 100
The Bechdel Test in the AFI Top 100