A few years ago I intended to buy a DVD of The Great Dictator but actually found it cheaper to buy a Charlie Chaplin Box Set. To my shame I still haven’t watched all the movies but have finally got around to seeing one of them Modern Times. Although I probably won’t feature it in the Blind Spot Series, I still have Limelight to watch.
Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” suffers a nervous breakdown while working on a production line. Following his release from hospital he struggles to hold down a job in the modern world. He meets a young homeless girl (Chaplin’s third wife, Paulette Goddard) whose farther has been killed in a labour battle and her sisters have been taken into the custody of the state. Wow, I am making it sound really depressing, it is actually a joyous comedy with an uplifting and message of defiance and hope reminiscent of The Grapes of Wrath.
At its most basic level the movie is a collection of set pieces designed to show off the physical comedy of Chaplin, in particular his “little tramp” character. Taken at this level the film is a great showcase for the comedy genius of Chaplin. At forty-five years old and playing the Little Tramp for the last time he is as inventive and most importantly funny as ever in his scenarios. However the film is so much more than that. Made at a time at the end of the depression when the world was becoming mechanised at its greatest rate since the industrial revolution and three years after Chaplin’s series of articles about his world view. At its heart the film echoes Chaplin’s idea that machinery should benefit mankind not replace it in the workplace. The scenario and message of the film seem so fresh and relevant today. Where Chaplin was concerned with the effects of modern industry on society we are in a period where the greatest concern of many is the disappearance of industry in society.
Depending on your point of view, it is either Chaplin’s first “talkie” or his last silent movie. It had been intended as a talkie, but Chaplin changed his mind and made what was effectively the last silent movie of the era (talkies had been around for a decade by this time). In a nice touch (other than a song in mock Italian nonsense) all the voices we hear are through mechanical devices (a phonograph, a loudspeaker and a radio) this has been suggested as a symbol of the films themes. It could also be a reminder of Chaplin’s dislike and distrust of sound in movies.
A fitting swansong for the most recognisable character in silent cinema, The Little Tramp and for silent cinema itself and one I should have seen long ago. With a running time of less than 90 minutes it is an easy watch even for those not versed in silent cinema, making it an ideal starting point for people interested in silent movies after seeing The Artist despite being the last silent movie of the era.
See who else took part in the Blind Spot Series this month HERE.