Friday, July 3, 2015

AFI Top 100, #81: "Modern Times" (1936)

Movie Stats:
Released 1936 (USA)
American, in English (much of the film is silent; there aren’t even all that many scene cards)
Director - Charlie Chaplin
Stars - Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard*

Plot Summary:
After a factory worker (Chaplin) suffers a nervous breakdown, he’s forced to navigate the many perils of 1930s America. Goddard co-stars as the gamin, the factory worker’s eventual love interest.

Minor, non-graphic violence; (unintentional) drug use; one scene of sexual humor that I think some would consider inappropriate for children.

Bad Stuff:
Although it came in just under an hour and a half, it still felt too long. In my opinion, some of the gags could have been shorter and still been impactful.

Chaplin’s schtick occasionally gets a little bit too goofy for my taste.

Good Stuff:
It’s so funny! There are some scenes, such as the “feeding machine,” that really had me in stitches. Since there’s little audible dialogue, much of the humor is carried by Chaplin’s facial expressions and his physicality, and it works. I think my favorite thing in the whole movie is his awkward, uncomfortable smile. I laughed every time he flashed it.

I loved the score, which was written by Chaplin (as was the screenplay).

It’s such a great time capsule of 1930s America: the painful transition to modernization, unemployment, strikes, hunger, and desperation, but also a sense of hope that pervaded even during the worst of times.

The Verdict:
I was skeptical of this one, but I have to say that it’s very enjoyable. I had so much fun watching it. I’d actually never seen any of Chaplin’s work before, so this was a pleasant surprise. However, it’s not just humorous. This is a very insightful look into 1930s America. On top of that, it is, at its core, quite poignant. Ultimately, all the factory worker and the gamin want is what everyone wants: meaningful work, love, and a stable home. Those things shouldn’t be that hard to find, and yet they seem to be for so many people. I really felt for their plight. This film may be from the 1930s, but I think that it’s extremely relatable in, um, modern times. If you haven’t yet seen it, you should give it a shot.

I give the movie 4.25 stars.**

*Bonus Fun Fact: Paulette Goddard was married for twelve years to one of my all-time favorite authors, Erich Maria Remarque. For some reason, I think that's just swell.

** In August 2015, after further reflection, I raised the rating of this movie from 4 to 4.25 stars.


Patricia said...

I too have never seen any Chaplin, but Matt just watched a whole bunch of his movies that he got from Netflix.

The first time I realized I hadn't seen any Chaplin was when someone pointed out to me that Johnny Depp was doing an homage to him in Benny and Joon. It went right over my head.

balyien said...

Well, I'm about to get very familiar with his work because I have to watch two more of his in a row next. Hopefully I don't get sick of him! I remember people saying that Depp's performance in "Benny and Joon" was an homage to Chaplin, but now I haven't seen that movie in ages, so I'd need to watch it again (but I don't really want to).