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With: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Chester Conklin, Tiny Sandford
Written by: Charles Chaplin
Directed by: Charles Chaplin
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 87
Date: 04/02/1936

Modern Times (1936)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Tramp Classic

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Charles "Charlie" Chaplin (1889-1977) is still the most famous person in the world. That's thanks to the universal appeal of motion pictures, to which the stage-trained Chaplin took like a fish to water. He instinctively adopted a universal persona that appealed to nearly every living, breathing creature on the planet.

That in itself is not such a big deal now that just about anyone can get their mug on some second-rate reality show. But Chaplin went one further: he did it with consummate artistry and poetry.

Chaplin was known for working slow and stretching out the time between his movies, turning them into eagerly awaited events. But as such, he was also slow to embrace the "talkie." Modern Times was his attempt to do both: it was the final film for the Little Tramp and also the first time anyone spoke in a Chaplin film, though the film is largely silent. At its climax, Chaplin sings a kind of gibberish song, showing that he was capable of talking, but that words were ultimately not important to his poetry. The film skewers the mechanization of America, showing Chaplin winding through the gears of some giant machine and even being force-fed via a spidery-looking gizmo.

Paulette Goddard -- Chaplin's onetime lover -- represents the human soul of the film. She plays a homeless waterfront gamine who steals Charlie's heart. (And indeed, she's at her most beautiful even with matted-down hair and black smudges on her cheeks.)

Warner Home Video released a two-disc DVD in 2003. Extas include a Karaoke version of the song, a clip of Liberace singing Chaplin's song "Smile," a couple of short industrial films, deleted scenes, posters, stills, a short documentary featuring filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, an introduction by Chaplin biographer David Robinson and an extraordinary Cuban short about a village that watches its first movie: Modern Times. In 2010, the Criterion Collection released new DVD and Blu-Ray editions.

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