Thursday, August 11, 2011

Modern Times

Written, directed, and starring by Charles Chaplin, with additional un-credited writing by Paulette Goddard, Modern Times tells the story of a man trying to find a job in a modern world filled with industrialization while falling for an orphan girl. The film is Chaplin’s final silent film with elements of sound effects and spoken dialogue as the film has Chaplin commenting on the world of industrialization during the Great Depression. Also starring Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sandford, and Chester Conklin. Modern Times is a witty yet enchanting film from Charles Chaplin.

Working at an assembly factory where he tries to deal with the accelerating machine, a tramp (Charles Chaplin) finds himself overwhelmed by the demands as he was even tested for a machine to shorten lunch hours. After suffering a breakdown and later sent to jail when he‘s mistaken for a Communist protest leader, the tramp deals with the world in prison where he becomes a hero during an attempted break-in by fellow prisoners. Pardoned for his actions, the tramp tries to deal with the harsh world outside of prison where he meets an orphaned girl (Paulette Goddard) who he tries to help after she stole some bread.

Though he tries to take the rap for her, the two escape as they hope to find some work for a better life. After getting a job as a night watchman, the tramp takes the young girl in where they have fun until he causes more trouble to lose his job and get arrested. After the girl finds a home following his return from jail, the tramp learns about work at a factory where he gets a job as a mechanic’s assistant for a while. Again, things don’t work out as it’s planned until he learns that the girl has gotten a job as a dancer at a café. Just as things were starting to pick up for the two of them, trouble ensues leaving them unsure about their future.

The film is a hybrid of sorts in Charles Chaplin’s pantomime silent comedy with some spoken dialogue that plays out in the film through a few characters. Yet, it’s Chaplin providing some commentary about the rising world of the industry where everything is assembled for profit. The film’s opening sequence reveals that Chaplin’s famed tramp character having a hard time trying to pick up the pace to tighten up bolts. He is then suddenly thrust inside the machine in a wonderful, playful scene that would set up a series of comedic situations throughout the film.

The film is also Chaplin providing insight into a world where he’s the individual in a society where everything feels like a machine from the way men walk and sit in unison in prison to the way he tries to help a mechanic later in the film. When the tramp is fired from his first job at the factory, he suddenly comes across a Communist march where he is mistaken as one of them as the film has a lot of commentary about the increasing world of industrialization and conformity. Yet, Chaplin manages to balance the commentary with the story of a man falling for a poor girl who had lost her family and is desperate to find work for a good life.

Chaplin’s direction throughout the film is truly mesmerizing where he creates a world that is oppressing for the factory scenes to the chaos for scenes in the cities. Still, Chaplin maintains a very engaging approach to the way he frames the scene as he lets audience know that whatever machine or job he’s taking on. Something will go wrong where it’s about when is something bad is going to happen. Yet, Chaplin does it in great comic style where he either goes inside the machine or let the machine provide some comedic elements. Another of what makes Chaplin so enduring as a filmmaker is the way he choreograph big scenes involving lots of extras where he would often be in a background or be in the middle of it. It’s all about Chaplin creating a form of chaos where he captures enough detail in the frame.

Chaplin also creates a wonderful sense of intimacy for many of the film’s romantic scenes as he keeps things simple. Chaplin creates some wonderful yet playful scenes at a mall where he rides around in skates to display his pantomime talents along with a great fantasy scene of the tramp and girl in their ideal life. For the film’s climatic moment at a restaurant, Chaplin does finally allow the tramp to say something for the audience to hear. Yet, he does it with style to display that he is set to embrace the world of the talkies but on his own terms. Overall, Charles Chaplin creates what is truly a magical yet heartwarming film.

Cinematographers Ira H. Morgan and Roland Totheroh do some wonderful work with the film‘s black-and-white photography that includes some great exterior shots in the daytime scenes. Notably some of the interior scenes as the look of black, white, and gray has a richness that is truly intoxicating in its look. Chaplin and Wilard Nico do some great work with the film’s editing by employing some wonderful fade-outs and inter-title cards to help set the mood for the scene or to display bits of dialogue. Yet, the editing is mostly straightforward throughout most of the presentation as it is a highlight in the film.

Production designer Charles D. Hall and art director J. Russell Spencer do a fantastic job with the set pieces created including the factory scenes that includes the famous bolt scene where the tramp is inside at and fixes along with the roller-skating at the mall sequence. The film’s score by Charles Chaplin is superb as it’s another of the film’s technical highlights. Filled with whimsical themes to play up the comedy along with the satirical tone of the film, it is among one of Chaplin’s finest score pieces that includes some arrangements by David Raskin. One of the film’s memorable pieces includes a nonsensical song that Chaplin sings through different languages along with the soothing romantic theme that would become the famed Chaplin song Smile.

The casting by Al Ernest Garcia is excellent as it includes some appearances from Gloria DeHaven and Gloria Delson as the orphan girl’s young sisters, Stanley Blystone as the girl’s father, and Richard Alexander as the tramp’s brutish cellmate. Other notable small performances include Henry Bergman as the sympathetic café manager, Tiny Sanford as the tramp’s factory co-worker, the film’s casting director Al Ernest Garcia in a rare speaking role as the factory president, and Chester Conklin as the mechanic who becomes an unfortunate victim of the tramp’s attempts to be helpful.

Finally, there’s the duo of Paulette Goddard and Charles Chaplin as they give glorious performances to their respective roles as the orphan girl and the tramp. Goddard displays a wonderful beauty as a young woman trying to find work and a life so she can regain her young sisters while proving to be a captivating dancer. Goddard brings a wonderful sense of grace and humor to her performance as she and Chaplin have great physical interplay to the comedic performances they give. Chaplin does a lot of his best work in being someone who means well but often bumbles his way while maintaining a sense of charm to bring joy throughout the film. It is Chaplin at his finest that is complemented by Goddard’s delightful presence.

Modern Times is a brilliant yet exhilarating film from Charles Chaplin that includes amazing contributions from Paulette Goddard. The film is among one of Chaplin’s best work as he provides some insightful commentary about the industrialization of the work place as well as conformity with his own unique brand of humor. The film is also a graceful exit for Chaplin to move away from silent film as he does it with comical style only the way he can do it. In the end, Modern Times is a dazzling film from Charles Chaplin.

Charles Chaplin Films: (Twenty Minutes of Love) - (Caught in the Rain) - (A Busy Day) - (Her Friend the Bandit) - (Mabel’s Married Life) - (Laughing Gas) - (The Face On the Bar Room Floor) - (Recreation) - (The Masquerader) - (His New Profession) - The Rounders - (The Property Man) - (The New Janitor) - (Those Love Pangs) - (Dough & Dynamite) - (Gentlemen of Nerve) - (His Musical Career) - (His Trysting Place) - (Getting Acquainted) - (His Prehistoric Past) - (His New Job) - (A Night Out) - (The Champion) - (In the Park) - (A Jitney Elopement) - (The Tramp) - (By the Sea (1915 film)) - (His Regeneration) - (Work (1915 film) - (A Woman) - (The Bank) - (Shanghaied) - (A Night in the Snow) - (Burlesque on Carmen) - (Police (1916 film)) - (Triple Trouble) - (The Floorwalker) - (The Fireman) - (The Vagabond) - (One A.M. (1916 film)) - (The Count) - (The Pawnshop) - (Behind the Screen) - (The Rink) - (Easy Street) - (The Cure (1917 film)) - (The Immigrant (1917 film)) - (The Adventurer) - A Dog’s Life - (The Bond) - Shoulder Arms - Sunnyside - A Day’s Pleasure - (The Professor) - The Kid (1921 film) - The Idle Class - Pay Day - The Pilgrim - A Woman of Paris - The Gold Rush - The Circus - City Lights - The Great Dictator - Monsieur Verdoux - Limelight - A King in New York - (A Countess from Hong Kong)

© thevoid99 2011

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