Modern Times

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Modern Times is a 1936 American comedy film by Charlie Chaplin that has his iconic Tramp character struggling to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during The Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization. The movie stars Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sandford and Chester Conklin, and was written and directed by Chaplin.

The movie begins with the Tramp working at a factory, screwing nuts and bolts on a conveyor belt, where he eventually suffers a nervous breakdown. He's sent to a mental hospital. After he recovers he soon finds that he's out of a job. He's soon mistakenly accused of being a Communist after accidentally and unknowingly happening to participate in a socialist march and pick up a red flag someone had dropped, and is thrown in jail. Ironically he finds jail to be more hospitable than the outside world. Throw in a poor orphan girl as a love interest and you have one of Chaplin's most critically acclaimed feature films.


Tropes used in Modern Times include:
  • Accidental Hero: Chaplin thwarts a prison break by dodging bullets and pummeling the escaping prisoners. But he only does so because earlier he'd unknowingly sprinkled cocaine all over his lunch that another prisoner had hidden in a salt shaker, and was completely high at that point.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Tramp's "singing waiter" number near the end of the film, which sounds like a mixture between French and Italian, but really is gibberish. It was the first time that the Tramp's voice was heard in a movie, and Chaplin wanted the character to continue to transcend all language boundaries.
  • Author Tract: Against the problems caused by the things meant to solve problems, as well as the artificiality of sound film.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: In the factory, the company president has a two-way video screen that can watch all areas of the factory - including in the restrooms.
  • Bittersweet Ending / No Ending / Riding Into The Dawn: The film ends with the Tramp and the girl on their own, fugitives from the law, walking into the sunrise--although the Tramp is still upbeat enough to not let their troubles get them down.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much a sign of the times.
  • Crash Into Hello: Chaplin meets his love interest in the movie this way; she had just stolen a loaf of bread, and ran at full speed around a corner before crashing straight into him.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: When he goes up against three armed prisoners with nothing but his fists and a nearby door. And wins.
  • Does Not Wear Shoes: Goddard's character is barefoot for most of the film because she's soo poor she can't affod them.
  • Do-It-Yourself Theme Tune: Chaplin composed the film's music score, including the classic "Smile".
  • The Great Depression
  • Heartwarming Orphan
  • Intoxication Ensues: While in prison Chaplin mistakes cocaine for salt and ingests a generous dose. In the ensuing frenzy he ends up foiling a prison break and is hailed as a hero.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Chaplin's character regards his prison as this, though it is only luxurious in comparison to how much worse it was to be living on the streets during The Great Depression. Of course, the fact that after he accidentally prevents a prison break he's treated extra nicely by the guards and the warden helps.
  • Missing Mom: And to make things worse, the father of Paulette Goddard's character gets shot.
  • My Breasts Are Down Here: Check out the buttons on that lady's suit.
  • No Name Given: For any of the main characters.
  • No OSHA Compliance
    • OSHA hadn't been made yet at the time, but any real factory where you might end up being a literal part of the machine traveling between the cogs would have been thought a bit much, even back then.
    • Also: Chaplin, like many of his contemporaries, did his own stunts, and did them without too many safety precautions.
  • Parental Abandonment
  • Romance on the Set: Chaplin was notorious for this, and Paulette Goddard was no exception.
  • Sanity Slippage: While Charlie is working at the factory. He begins to try and take a wrench to everything in sight...including a woman's breasts.
  • Silence Is Golden: Modern Times was essentially a silent film with a recorded soundtrack. The only real dialog comes from either recordings or loudspeakers (i.e., not natural speech), Chaplin's way of pointing out his opinion of the artificiality of sound film. Released seven years after the rest of Hollywood had gone over to talkies, and the last major release of a silent film for forty years, until Mel Brooks with Silent Movie in 1976.
  • Singing Simlish: The aforementioned song sequence.
  • The Speed of Silents: Enforced - despite being shot at a modern (sound film) frame rate, the movie is slightly under-cranked for a Retraux fast motion effect.
  • Suddenly Voiced: The Tramp.
  • Typewriter Eating: Played for Black Comedy: The malfunctioning feeding machine subjects the tramp to this, a sign of just how much the factory environment has dehumanized him.
  • Video Phone: "Hey! Quit stalling! Get back to work!"
  • Wanted Poster: Juvenile Hall is looking for Paulette Goddard.