AN INTRODUCTION TO MODERN TIMES (1936)
Modern Times was Charlie Chaplin’s fifth film for United Artists.
Released in 1936—a full five years after the release of his previous film, City Lights—Modern Times marks the final appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic tramp. Chaplin once again proves his genius through a constant stream of gags, one even involving cocaine, some impressive roller skating, and subtle references to class struggle during America’s Great Depression.
The tramp is a factory worker who suffers a nervous breakdown on the production line, unable to cope with the repetitious nature of modern manufacturing. The setting is said to take its inspiration from a visit Chaplin took to Ford’s factory in Detroit ten years previously. The tramp symbolises the millions of factory workers in America at that time, forced to work at a furious pace in factories filled with frightening, complicated machinery.
Explaining this, he wrote: “I wanted to say something about something that is going on at that present time. Regimentation – that was the idea. The way life is being standardized and channelized, and men turned into machines, and the way I feel about it.”
Chaplin’s co-star in the film, the female street urchin (or gamin as she is referred to in the film) is played by his love interest at the time, Paulette Goddard. Although their onscreen relationship appears more childlike than romantic, the film’s final scene shows the pair walking into the distance together, a contrast to the usual Chaplin films that have concluded with the Tramp facing the world on his own.
The film premiered in New York in February 1936 and its reception was unanimously positive.