Modern Times (1936)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Modern Times</strong> (1936)

(On Cable TV, April 2018) There’s an interest in Modern Times that goes beyond it being one of Charlie Chaplin’s best-known films. It was made in 1936, more than half a decade after Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound films. As such, it does incorporate a soundtrack and even voices from time to time. But the Tramp character remains mostly silent, aside from a droll final song showing that voice could be used to make an impact even at that stage in movie history. Much has been said about Modern Times’ portrayal of industrialization and its impact on workers, and even today the film feels relevant in its critique, as well as the link it establishes between the capitalist establishment, the justice system and worker oppression. It even talks about unionization against corporate rule, imprisonment as an intimidation tactic and drug use, all of which are kind of amazing to see in a Hays Code film. There’s a lot of material here beyond the comedy routines, of which there are several memorable ones. As far as I’m concerned, Modern Times comes in just a notch below The Great Dictator in the Chaplin pantheon, with its politically engaged message, better tech credentials, hopeful finale and fine-tuned comic moments.

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