Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Inducted to the National Film Registry in 1989
I first watched it on Feb. 10th, 2021
What It’s About:
A down-on-his-luck factory worker and a young homeless woman try to make their way in a world that seems determined to keep them down.
My experience with the film:
Getting my critiques out of the way first: I did think it was somewhat strange that the younger sisters of Paulette Goddard’s character were practically forgotten halfway through the film (I kept expecting her to try to reunite with them). Likewise, the age difference between the two lead characters feels uncomfortable by modern standards (despite the actress being 25, her character is implied to be a minor).
That said, this movie was hilarious, and adorable, and I loved it. This was only my second time watching a Chaplin film. The first was The Great Dictator (it will get its own entry eventually), which I watched about a year ago. I enjoyed The Great Dictator quite a bit (largely for its message), but I thought that some of the physical humor didn’t work and/or dragged on a little too long. This may explain why Chaplin decided not to make Modern Times a “talkie”—perhaps his style of humor does indeed work better in silent films. Whatever the reason, I found myself laughing in practically every scene of Modern Times. It was full of slapstick humor, but it also never felt too over-the-top, unrealistic, or cartoonish.
And while Charlie Chaplin’s physical acting sold the humor of the film, I felt that it was Paulette Goddard who sold the heart. She was every bit as endearing as he was and I really enjoyed the give-and-take nature of their relationship—they took care of each other and looked out for each other fairly equally. (For example: one day he’d sneak her into the department store at night for food and shelter, and then later, she’d find an abandoned shack for them to stay in.)
Honestly, this is probably my favorite film that I’ve newly watched for this NFR project so far (keep in mind that I’m still fairly early in working my way through this list, and that I’m not including movies that I had already seen before starting this project as being eligible for the aforementioned “favorites”). I definitely look forward to revisiting it in the future.
I should also note that several of the resources that I found mentioned that this is a great film to use to introduce your kids to the world of silent film. Aside from a little bit of substance use throughout (smoking, drinking, and, surprisingly, some accidental ingesting of “nose powder” that leads to some hilarious results), I’d say that I agree. If you have kids in your life (your own, or nieces/nephews, cousins, etc.) who haven’t seen a silent film (or if you haven’t, for that matter), this is a great one to start with (even if it’s not technically completely silent, since it came out nearly a decade after the dawn of the “talkie”; in addition to having a score and sound effects, it also has an occasional moment of spoken word or song). You and the kids will be laughing the whole time.
Modern Times (1936) is available to stream on the services listed here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/modern-times
To learn more about the history and significance of this film, I recommend the following resources:
- The DVD pictured above (which I got from DVD Netflix) didn’t have any special features, but the Criterion Collection version of the Blu-ray comes packed with special features.
- The official NFR Essay about the film: https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/modern_times.2.pdf
- A blog post about the film from The Horse’s Head, another site dedicated to watching the NFR films: https://thehorseshead.blog/2019/10/07/376-modern-times-1936/
- The original 1936 review from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/1936/02/06/archives/heralding-the-return-after-an-undue-absence-of-charlie-chaplin-in.html
- The original 1936 review from Variety, which contains what is possibly the best three-word combination ever created in the history of the English language—“manifestation of boobery”: https://variety.com/1936/film/reviews/modern-times-2-1200411268/
- A 1972 review from Roger Ebert: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/modern-times-1972
- A YouTube review/analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwTbZeTx6G8
- Another YouTube review/analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eAKtzOdiXY
- A third YouTube review/analysis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIgkCjFQVWY
- An article about the film from the official Charlie Chaplin website: https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/6-Filming-Modern-Times
- The Wikipedia article for Modern Times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Times_(film)
For the complete list of films in the National Film Registry, including information on how you can view each film, and links to every entry that I have written, please see my NFR Directory.