Modern Times

1936 | Comedy | 87 minutes | Silent Film


The film portrays Charlie Chaplin in his Tramp persona as a factory worker employed on an industrial assembly line. Frenetically feeding an inhuman machine, he ends up having a nervous breakdown. He is sent to a hospital. After he recovers, he finds himself unemployed. He is mistakenly arrested as an agitator at a Communist demonstration. After his release, he runs into Ellen, an orphaned waif who is fleeing the police after being caught stealing a loaf of bread. He is willing to go back to jail telling the police he is the thief. It doesn’t work. Ellen eventually gets a job as a cafe dancer. She gets him a job there as a singing waiter. He’s a big hit. But the police close in to arrest Ellen. She wants to surrender but the factory worker bucks her up. He assures her that they’ll make it somehow. They walk down the road together to an uncertain future.

Charlie Chaplin (the factory worker) / Paulette Goddard (Ellen Peterson, “The Gamin”)
Why Stream This Film?
Filmed during the Great Depression, Chaplin brilliantly depicted the desperation of people who couldn’t get jobs or get enough to eat.  In the film, Chaplin attributes much of the blame to the inhuman modern industrialized world. Many current critics have found that Modern Times is more meaningful now than at any time since its first release.
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 100%
  • Metacritic Score: 96%
  • In 1989 Modern Times was deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress  and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
  • In 2003 it was given a special screening  at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Now streaming on:

I go to a lot of movies and I can’t remember the last time I heard a paying audience actually applaud at the end of a film. But this one did. And the talk afterward in the aisles, the lobby and in line at the parking garage was genuinely excited; maybe a lot of these people hadn’t seen much Chaplin before, or were simply very happy to find that the passage of time has not diminished the man’s special genius.
Roger Ebert

Time has not changed his genius. MODERN TIMES is the story of the little clown, temporarily caught up in the cogs of an industry geared to mass production, spun through a three-ring circus and out into a world as remote from industrial and class problems as a comedy can make it.
Frank S. Nugent

The New York Times

The first thing that needs to be said of MODERN TIMES is that it’s very funny and occasionally hilarious. Yet for all its comedy, MODERN TIMES is a film born of serious concerns. Chaplin had a horror of automations, which he saw as symptomatic of a trend in modern life to turn people into machines, with machine lives and thoughts.
Mick LaSalle

San Francisco Chronicle

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