Modern Times

1936

Modern Times

Critics Consensus

A slapstick skewering of industrialized America, Modern Times is as politically incisive as it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

100%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 57

95%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 40,129
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Movie Info

This episodic satire of the Machine Age is considered Charles Chaplin's last "silent" film, although Chaplin uses sound, vocal, and musical effects throughout. Chaplin stars as an assembly-line worker driven insane by the monotony of his job. After a long spell in an asylum, he searches for work, only to be mistakenly arrested as a Red agitator. Released after foiling a prison break, Chaplin makes the acquaintance of orphaned gamine (Paulette Goddard) and becomes her friend and protector. He takes on several new jobs for her benefit, but every job ends with a quick dismissal and yet another jail term. During one of his incarcerations, she is hired to dance at a nightclub and arranges for him to be hired there as a singing waiter. He proves an enormous success, but they are both forced to flee their jobs when the orphanage officials show up to claim the girl. Dispirited, she moans, "What's the use of trying?" But the ever-resourceful Chaplin tells her to never say die, and our last image is of Chaplin and The Gamine strolling down a California highway towards new adventures. The plotline of Modern Times is as loosely constructed as any of Chaplin's pre-1915 short subjects, permitting ample space for several of the comedian's most memorable routines: the "automated feeding machine," a nocturnal roller-skating episode, and Chaplin's double-talk song rendition in the nightclub sequence. In addition to producing, directing, writing, and starring in Modern Times, Chaplin also composed its theme song, Smile, which would later be adopted as Jerry Lewis' signature tune. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast

Henry Bergman
as Cafe Owner
Hank Mann
as Burglar
Stanley Blystone
as Sheriff Couler
Allan Garcia
as Company Boss
Sammy Stein
as Foreman
Juana Sutton
as Woman with Buttoned Bosom
Jack Low
as Worker
Dr. Cecil Reynolds
as Prison Chaplain
Mira McKinney
as Chaplain's Wife
Gloria de Haven
as Gamin's Sister
Lloyd Ingraham
as Prison Governor
John Rand
as Convict
Frank Moran
as Convict
Murdock MacQuarrie
as J. Widdecombe Billows
Wilfred Lucas
as Juvenile Officer
Edward J. Le Saint
as Sheriff Couler
Fred Malatesta
as Cafe Head Waiter
Ted Oliver
as Billows' Assistant
James C. Morton
as Assembly Worker
Frank S. Hagney
as Shipbuilder
Al Ernest Garcia
as President of the Electro Steel Corp.
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Critic Reviews for Modern Times

All Critics (57) | Top Critics (13) | Fresh (57)

  • It is a gay, impudent and sentimental pantomimic comedy in which even the anachronisms are often as becoming as Charlie Chaplin's cane.

    Apr 27, 2009 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • One of the many remarkable things about Charlie Chaplin is that his films continue to hold up, to attract and delight audiences.

    Apr 1, 2008 | Full Review…
  • The picture is grand fun and sound entertainment, though silent. It's the old Chaplin at his best, looking at his best -- young, pathetic and a very funny guy.

    Jun 26, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Variety
    Top Critic
  • It's the coldest of [Chaplin's] major features, though no less brilliant for it.

    Jun 26, 2007 | Full Review…
  • The opening sequence in Chaplin's second Depression masterpiece, of the Tramp on the assembly line, is possibly his greatest slapstick encounter with the 20th century.

    Jun 26, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Chaplin's political and philosophical naivety now seems as remarkable as his gift for pantomime.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Derek Adams

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Modern Times

  • Nov 02, 2018
    The final scene in â~Modern Timesâ(TM) is stunning, and in many ways. There is a message of hope amidst the poverty of the Depression, with Chaplinâ(TM)s responding to Goddard feeling overwhelmed and defeated by saying âBuck up - never say die. We'll get along!â? (and lip-reading after that, perhaps âSmile, Câ(TM)mon!â?). We then see his signature move, walking off down the road, but this time he isnâ(TM)t alone, he has Goddard with him, which could be viewed as overcoming through love and togetherness, or perhaps Chaplinâ(TM)s real-life marriage to her. The most tingly interpretation for me, however, is as a symbol of end of the silent era. Chaplin retired his the character of the Tramp with this film, and while he uses sound in some very creative ways, itâ(TM)s mostly silent. Long after almost all other movies had become talkies, when I see this iconic character walking off down the road, I really feel like itâ(TM)s a final good-bye to an era, which gives me goosebumps. Chaplin is also absolutely brilliant in the filmâ(TM)s very impressive opening scene. Heâ(TM)s an assembly line worker who tightens bolts to some non-descript part as they rapidly stream by, having to work very hard to keep up. He and his fellow workers have been made into machines, watched over with technology ahead of its time, with his boss able to see and talk to him via giant monitors, including one in the washroom. In a hilarious scene, his boss uses him as the guinea pig for a new device meant to improve efficiency â" an automated feeding machine. Chaplin is strapped in and must endure the machine going haywire through various courses of a meal. Itâ(TM)s one of the funniest sequences Iâ(TM)ve ever seen. The film seems like it may be heading for a critique of automation, with Chaplin dehumanized, humiliated, suffering from repetitive motion, and breaking down, but it expands in to more than that. Through the character of a gamin (Paulette Goddard), we see the poverty of the times. Itâ(TM)s ironic that the efforts made by engineers to develop an automated feeding machine are soon followed by Goddard stealing bananas for poor children and her family. It seems to be saying that the best minds should be working less on maximizing corporate profits by attempting to automate the most basic of human activities, eating, and more on making sure that everyone has enough to eat. Eating is a recurring theme in the film, with machines â~swallowing upâ(TM) workers at times, and a thief explaining âwe ain't burglars - we're hungry.â? Chaplin realizes at one point that heâ(TM)s better off locked up in prison, where he has a place to sleep and gets fed. The film touches on other aspects of the times. Chaplin is inadvertently swept up into socialist strikes. He also accidentally consumes some ânose candyâ?, and in a very amusing, cocaine-fueled frenzy, he stops other prisoners from escaping. Later heâ(TM)ll also accidentally drink a lot of rum. In addition to the comedic effect these things have, perhaps itâ(TM)s showing us that sometimes people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that while socialism and drugs are such serious topics, there is a silliness to the things we do. The House Un-American Activities Committee took a dimmer view, however, believing the film to be further evidence of Chaplin being a communist. Itâ(TM)s ironic, because if you think about it, Chaplinâ(TM)s character doesnâ(TM)t really have a problem with getting jobs, he just loses them (usually through incompetence), and his message at the end is one of hope. Heâ(TM)s not saying letâ(TM)s overthrow the wealthy and levelize society, heâ(TM)s just saying letâ(TM)s treat people with humanity and respect, including those at the bottom of society. While it has social commentary, the film feels very lighthearted, and has many charming moments. Chaplin is a very graceful roller skater during an extended sequence, and has some funny dance moves. His â~nonsenseâ(TM) song towards the end is fantastic, and I was impressed that he also composed the filmâ(TM)s score, which is quite catchy and was the basis for the Nat King Cole song â~Smileâ(TM). There are of course slapstick elements and pratfalls peppered throughout, some of which work better than others. Overall, itâ(TM)s a brilliant film by a true giant in the industry, and a must-view.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 30, 2016
    A great comedic epic. Chaplin's critique of capitalism is right on the money, but none of it would have worked if the movie wasn't also hilarious.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 03, 2015
    Amusing and charming, Modern Times still entertains decades later. The set and prop design for the first act (the factory) are very good. The plot takes us through the many ups and downs (mostly downs) of the hero and heroine, and the way they handle it all is very endearing. The lead actress has great spirit and natural beauty. Modern Times isn't a must-see, but I would definitely recommend it.
    Robert B Super Reviewer
  • Apr 04, 2013
    A factory worker and his homeless love struggle to fulfill the "American Dream" despite the advances of "progress." This is how satire is done. Clear in its images -- The Tramp literally caught in the machinery -- and exact in what it's criticizing -- the Big Brother factory boss and the criminalization of the economically disenfranchised -- Modern Times is one of Chaplin's most precise and incisive comedies. In this film, The Tramp becomes more than an extension of vaudeville; he stands in for the poor everyman, and as a result Chaplin's work takes on a profundity and significance unique to him. The filmmaking, or the direction, is quite strong. While this was supposed to be Chaplin's first talkie, it works better in the genre Super Reviewer Alice Shen calls a "neo-silent film" (she coins this phrase in reference to The Artist). Chaplin's use of sound occurs at strategic moments in the narrative: the corporate boss can speak as he has entered the mechanized age, but The Tramp stays mostly silent, only once singing in gibberish. Chaplin sets up the conflict between the ways of the past and the future in the film's technique as well as its theme. I did think that the film occasionally fell into slapstick and schtick, abandoning its central concerns, but these moments were rare in the grand scheme of the film. Overall, Modern Times ranks among Limelight and The Great Dictator as one of Chaplin's finest films.
    Jim H Super Reviewer

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