When it comes to a film that was made in 1936, the natural question that comes to mind is does it hold up almost 80 years later. I’m happy to say that Modern Times definitely stands the test of time. Charlie Chaplin was brilliant, and not only did he star in the film he also wrote it, directed it and wrote the damn score. Chaplin is one of the most talented men in the history of the motion picture business.
In 1936 the country was in the throes of a depression and about to enter World War II. Modern Times tells the story of a factory worker who is unable to keep up with the demands of the “modern day” American worker and who accidentally gets caught up in the labor movement while trying to simply provide for himself. He befriends a young woman who is living on the streets due to unfortunate circumstances and together they try to find work and carve out a little piece of the American dream — a dream that in 1936 was pretty hard to come by. Chaplin’s tale is a social commentary, but it also makes you laugh out loud. It’s funny because it is a silent film, but that never bothered me because the action was great and the acting was well done. The story was pretty universal as well so I knew what was going on without the dialogue, which is a testament to Chaplin’s brilliance. I bet 1936 audiences were riveted by the film.
If you’ve never seen a full Charlie Chaplin film I highly recommend it. Modern Times is one of two Chaplin films in the AFI top 100 (the other is City Lights at which comes in at #11). I’m really looking forward to that one because if it’s even better than Modern Times it’s going to be excellent. I had never seen a complete Chaplin film, although I did very much enjoy the Robert Downey Jr. biopic so I felt like I knew a lot about Chaplin’s life. But you just can’t fully understand the guy’s abilities until you see him in action. He was a very physical comedian, but he could also make you laugh with the raise of an eyebrow or a look in his eye. Could you imagine any of today’s comedic actors trying to make us laugh without speaking? Maybe Jim Carrey could pull it off but that’s about it.
Chaplin is an icon and a key figure in the history of American film making. He also co-founded United Artists back in 1919 and it is still a pivotal part of the film industry. Amazing man.
Up Next: All The President’s Men (one of my all-time favorites!)