#39: Modern Times (1936)

When and how did I watch this?

March 15th, 2017, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Chaplin film centered around the Great Depression and, as the title suggests, the modernity of his surroundings.

What do I know about it now?

I really wanted to like this film because it’s Chaplin, but I felt it was a bit flat and confusing for most of it.  I read elsewhere that it was initially slated to be a “talkie”, but the film went back to a silent format to retain The Tramp’s persona.  This was a wise move. Chaplin’s physical humor and facial expressions are on full display in the film, and some of the scenes inspired copycats later (the conveyor belt scene in I Love Lucy, the couch-trip in the Dick Van Dyke Show intro). Paulette Goddard is a babe, playing the role of a ragged, surviving woman and caretaker of her impoverished siblings.  The chemistry in the film between her and Chaplin is fantastic. Unfortunately, this is where the appeal stopped for me.  The film had no real aim (perhaps this is the point?), and while eventually Chaplin sings in the end — though ironically it’s gibberish — we want to hear him say more. He has an opportunity to play hero and stand up to the man, but true to The Tramp’s frustrating anti-hero makeup, he remains silent in every way until he happens upon talent in the end. As is in most Chaplin films, there’s a lot to say about the score, composed specifically for the film by Chaplin himself.  It’s possible that the man stretched himself too thin here, however, remembering to be The Tramp and the genius of film production, but failing to retain our interest in screenplay.

What are some themes in the film?

The Great Depression, the industrial revolution and subsequent invention, bureaucracy and social class, redemption, fate

Did this affect me personally?

The scene when The Tramp and Ellen (Goddard) arrive at their dream home, and another scene when they envision their ideal living situation, are both endearing and sentimental in nature.

Why is this ranked #39?

The Chaplin name propels this one to a high ranking, though Gold Rush and The Great Dictator are both far better works, in my opinion.  Goddard’s role might be memorable to many, though I have no reference here.  Again, the score is fantastic and might be a factor. Otherwise, I’m uncertain.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She wasn’t really watching this one closely.

Would I watch it again?

For clarity, but for no other reason.  I would guess moviegoers around the time of its release were repeating viewings as well, so there’s probably value in this.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

There are better Chaplin examples, from what I can see..

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Really, any Chaplin film deserves a “Greatest” slot.  The master is at work here again, but the film sort of wanders and loses its appeal as an engaging screenplay fairly early. It rarely arrested my attention despite Chaplin/The Tramp’s constant humorous and delightful appeal and occasional social commentary on the time and the clear impact on the middle class and humanity.

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