Modern Times (1936)
Dir: Charlie Chaplin. Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
Last night I came to the glorious realisation that I could happily spend the rest of my days being entertained and inspired in equal measures by Charlie Chaplin films. The beauty of Modern Times is that the inimitable Chaplin manages to tell quite a serious, and prescient, story about men being enslaved by both machines and the powers that be, whilst managing to make you laugh in practically every scene. It’s a classic tale of an ordinary working man trying to make an honest living for himself but being thwarted at every turn.
Chaplin as The Tramp is not a tramp at the start of the film, but a factory worker who is almost killed by the constant modernisation of the production line. In one hilarious scene he is subjected to being a test case on a contraption that would allow workers to carry on their production line tasks without having to stop for food, with the machine assaulting him with soup, cake and corn on the cob. I haven’t laughed so much in ages, though, as with all clever comedy, you’re partly laughing at the sheer absurdity of the human condition.
Chaplin is then jobless, and when he picks up a red flag in the street is mistaken for a communist leader (the police evidently looking after the interests of the rich) and banged up in jail. Here, Chaplin inadvertently consumes some ‘nose powder’ (again, laugh out loud funny) and, with his extra bravado, ends up saving the prison from attack.
An honest man, Chaplin then struggles to hold down a job but does meet ‘the gamin’ (Goddard), a beautiful orphan on the run from the police, and the two try and struggle through life together, dreaming of a time when they will be able to enjoy a permanent roof over their heads and food on the table. When in the end they lose everything, there’s still a sense of hope; an optimism that something good can come out of the unhappy state the world is in.
This film has everything – the honest, working man versus the wealthy factory owner; the de-humanising impact of excessive modernisation; the struggle people faced during the Depression; and all this with proper belly laughs along the way. Excellent.