CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S MODERN TIMES

Published December 15, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: Yet another case of these categories being limiting. In many respects, Charlie Chaplin is not only an auteur, he was The Original Auteur. However, I am not going to file this post under The Auteurs, simply because this is indeed one of The Best Damn Movies EVER.
Modern Times Lobby Card
I’ve always loved Charlie Chaplin — although of late, I’ve been quite lax in my appreciation. Over the weekend, however, I re-watched Richard Attenborough’s 1992 bio-pic Chaplin. The film has a number of flaws — not the least of which is trying to cram such a long and complex life into 135 minutes. If there is a saving grace to the film, it is the performance of Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie, stunning in its nuances and physical grace. I knew that our government (in particular, J. Edgar Hoover, puh-tooey!) had spent a great deal of money in trying to prove that The Little Tramp was, in fact, a Communist — all this because the little guy was constantly (yet innocently) thumbing his nose at authority, sticking it to the man long before it was hip to do so — but this film refreshed my memory about how shabbily he was treated. After Chaplin took a brief vacation abroad in the 1950s, he was refused re-entry into the US — not this nation’s proudest hour. Regardless, watching this bio-pic fired up my Chaplin jones again. (Chaplin briefly and triumphantly returned to the US in April 1972, to receive an Honorary Oscar — he was welcomed warmly.)
Charlie and the Machine
In 1936, Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in Modern Times — considered by many, including me, to be his masterpiece. Chaplin also wrote the score, from which the moving song Smile was taken. (Call me sentimental, but this song gives me chill bumps every time I hear it.)
Modern Times poster
Modern Times has Chaplin’s Little Tramp struggling to survive in a modern, industrialized society. It also makes strong comments on the depression era, which oddly, given our economic crises, still resonates today. The 87-minute film, which is really a succession of classic and hilarious set pieces, was the final “silent” appearance of Chaplin’s most famous alter-ego — although the film does have sound and The Little Tramp does sing in mock French and Italian near the end of the movie. Our hero struggles against industrialization, has a nervous breakdown, is mistaken for a Communist, goes to jail (numerous times), falls in love with a street urchin (the luminous Paulette Goddard), gets a number of jobs, gets fired from all of them, and yet, through it all, remains upbeat and optimistic.

PAULETTE GODDARD AS THE GAMINE – painfully pretty
Paulette Goddard
It had been a little while since I had seen this film, but watching it again this weekend, in the midst of a bad case of holiday blues, made me laugh out loud a goodly number of times. Charlie cheered me up, which I suppose is his ultimate legacy: in the hardest of times, he cheered us all up. In this economically unstable climate — 70+ years after the film was made — Modern Times is as relevant today as it was then. Maybe even more so.

“WE’LL GET ALONG.”
The Little Tramp heads toward the horizon … this time not alone.

If you’ve never seen it, you are in for a treat — one of the funniest movies ever made. Favorite bits: the “feeding” machine, the stomach growls and the dog, “Find me a wedge,” the lady with the “nuts” on her dress, the cocaine and the sugar shaker, the roller skates in the department store and … too many others to mention.

Bon app├ętit.


CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S MODERN TIMES (1936)