Modern Times is Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 silent comedy. A quick glance at the date reveals that “talkies” had become dominant in Hollywood but Chaplin still ended up releasing this film as a silent film. The film features one of Chaplin’s best known characters, “Little Tramp,” in his final film role. The film is an effort by Chaplin to address what he saw as one of the reasons for the persistence of the Great Depression. He viewed industrialization as putting many people out of work and in some ways turning workers into drones who are at the mercy of the machines and the suits who run them. Modern Times has been widely held as one of the finest films in history. Let’s see if it continues to hold up to scrutiny.
Should this film be considered a classic? The answer here is a definite yes. One thing this film, and other silent films do, is prove the ability of images to tell a story. I actually found it hard to imagine a script with this film (even though Chaplin originally wrote a script for it and meant for it to be a “talkie”) because the images were so evocative and effective and telling the story. I also found the sets in this film to be a joy to watch. The factory scenes will have you laughing and cringing at the same time because it is impossible not to identify with the antics of Little Tramp while he is on screen. The actors and actresses do a great job portraying emotion even without using words. Their faces tell everything you need to know. For generations of moviegoers who have grown up with “talkies,” a silent film might seem like a real bore. Modern Times proves this wrong. In fact, the message that Chaplin tries to get across comes through much clearer than many films that have all the modern technology on their side.
Would I own this film? Yes, I would. As I sat there watching it I was wondering why I hadn’t seen it before. It’s a wonderful film with endearing characters and a thought provoking story told in a humorous and visually engaging manner. Chaplin was a gifted visual story teller and if you enjoy good film then this is one that you need to watch. Silent films are a part of the heritage of film and Modern Times is proof that even as technology has progressed, telling a good story is always the central element of a great film. Even without voices, the story of Modern Times comes through loud and clear and that is why this film will continue to endure.