DVD Review: Modern Times

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
Director: Charlie Chaplin

modern-times 1In Modern Times Chaplin gives one of his funniest and most sympathetic performances as a factory worker being driven crazy by the inhuman pace of his job, which involves tightening the nuts on an endless stream of identical components rushing along a conveyor belt. All the while he’s spied on remotely by a big boss in a big office who’s the spitting image of John Frederson, the technocratic ruler of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. A dizzying flow of accidents and misunderstandings sees the Tramp going to prison and being released again, at which point he takes up with Paulette Goddard’s delightful riverside gamin, who’s tougher, more feisty and – showing a lot of bare leg in a ragged skirt – quite a bit sexier than Chaplin’s usual screen damsels.

The Metropolis-inspired futuristic visuals endow Modern Times with a clean, cool aesthetic, thanks to which it has remained among the freshest and instantly accessible of Chaplin’s films. The most celebrated highlights are the ones involving mad pieces of technology – the automated eating device that tries to choke the Tramp on a steel nut, and the tour de force moment where he gets sucked into a giant machine and goes spooling through its cog-laden interior. But there are plenty of others which don’t rank far behind in excellence, as when the Tramp and the gamin set up home in a death-trap of a shack full of lethal examples of her terrible carpentry, a sequence which only seems to gain extra savour from the fact that it was parodied in The Toxic Avenger. The transfer looks sharp, clean and bright on DVD. 9/10

26 min documentary in which the Dardenne Brothers talk about Chaplin’s reactions to industrialism and the Great Depression in a manner which is, er, very French. ~ A lucid 6-min introduction by David Robinson, in which he mentions that Chaplin actually recorded some spoken dialogue for the movie but decided not to use it. ~ A segment in which you can join in karaoke style to the mock-Italian nonsense song that Chaplin sings late in the movie. ~ The Idle Class, a 28 min two-reeler by Chaplin mocking the rich folk holidaying in Miami. 8/10


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