By Carter B. Horsley
Charles Chaplin was the greatest comedian in
film history and the greatest star of silent films.
He produced and directed and starred in "Modern
Times" in 1936, a film described by filmsite.org critic Tim
Dirks as his "last full-length 'silent film' - although it
must be noted that this is a quasi-silent film" as there
are sound effects" and a bit of gibberish dialogue at the
In the film, Chaplin's character is his famous
"tramp" who has a moustache and baggy pants and the
weight of mankind on his shoulders.
The story is simple: man against the industrialized
The film has several classic sequences.
The first finds Chaplin on an assemblyline
where his duty is to tighten bolts as they pass on a conveyor
belt. In a brilliant bit of choreography, he is all angles as
he flays his arms to keep pace with the conveyor belt. His syncopated
routine is interrupted, however, by an itch and then a buzzing
fly and he must speed up to catch up and in the ensuing chaos
Chaplin discovers he cannot stop his jerky movements and starts
to "tighten" the buttons on a women's trousers.
The second great sequence finds Chaplin as
the guinea pig for a factory experiment in productivity: a feeding
machine that permits workers not to take a lunch break and which
has a food "pusher" and a "mouth wipe." The
machine and Chaplin are not a happy match.
In the third and most memorable sequence, Chaplin
is swallowed up by the conveyor belt and taken through its huge
cogs and gears to emerge an even more energized nut-tightener
in pursuit of buttons on women's clothing until he ends up in
the factory's control room where he pushes switches and pulls
levers and creates mayhem and is finally carted off to a psychiatric
ward: "he has become a 'nut' himself," mused Mr.
Dirks in his excellent review.
When released from the ward, Chaplin picks
up a red flag that has fallen off a construction truck and quickly
is assumed to be the leader of a Communist demonstration and before
long is carted off to jail where he ingests cocaine that another
convict had hidden in a salt shaker and soon stumbles onto a jail
break that he thwarts with his crazed reaction to the drug. He
is rewarded with his own cell and when later about to be released
asks if he can stay longer because he is "so happy"
He is released and gets a job at a shipyard
where he manages to launch a half-built ship and then runs into
a gamin played by Paulette Goddard, the pixish brunette actress
who was in real life his wife at the time. She has stolen a loaf
of bread and is fleeing child-care authorities and is finally
caught despite Chaplin's attempts to take the blame.
Chaplin then gets jailed again for ordering
a large meal at a restaurant and cigars and not paying for them
and meets the gamin again in the paddy wagon, which hits a bump
that makes them fall out and they escape. They dream of an idyllic
home in the suburbs and soon Chaplin gets a job in a department
store where he makes his rounds on roller skates and encounters
burglars who claim they are merely hungry and he falls asleep
atop a counter. He is jailed again and when he is released several
days later he is greeted by the gamin who claims she has found
a "home" that he calls paradise but which is ramshackle
and all but collapses on and around him.
At one point, the factory boss watches his
workers on television, which is rather impressive given the date
of the film.
The Tramp's misadventures never quash his optimism
and eventually he walks into the sunset with his gamin, victorious
over the vicissitudes.