In what might seem a spasm of lethargy, I won’t be writing my usual 500 words on this Charlie Chaplin creation. For one thing, I feel I ought not to fall into the trap of systemising my writing style yet again. The second, well I just didn’t like it all that much. Yes, it’s a classic, whatever that means, but I just didn’t connect with Modern Times.
This is a typical Chaplin creation (starring, directed by, written by and produced by the man himself), with the Tramp character at its centre, using slapstick humour to make a political message palatable to the masses. In fact, it was one of his last silent productions, though only quasi- at that, with the characters singing and even speaking at times through various technological means.
Much like The Great Dictator, which was to come later, Modern Times primarily concentrates on current socio-economic/political concerns, albeit broken up with crowd-pleasing clowning around. Here, the Great Depression is the topic at hand. The Tramp stumbles through various jobs and jails, finding and protecting a young orphan girl (Paulette Goddard) along the way. It’s all very poignant and hopeful, with a wicked satire in some of its comic set pieces, the most famous being the automated feeding machine, with the inevitable malfunctions.
All in all, I can understand why this is often considered a great film: the performances are memorable; the sharp satire aimed against industry was incredibly topical upon the film’s release, giving the film historical significance; and it’s an example of how silent humour (which Chaplin was keen to uphold for the Tramp character) was accessible across class and language barriers. If I’ve offended you though my lack of enthusiasm then I apologise. Chaplin was undoubtedly a master, but for me this is not a masterpiece.