Modern Times

Summary of Modern Times,  (1936), starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

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The Gamine (Paulette Goddard) sneaking up on Charlie the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) in Modern Times
The Gamine (Paulette Goddard) sneaking up on Charlie the Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) in Modern Times

Modern Times begins with Charlie Chaplin as Charlie the Little Tramp gainfully employed at a factory.  Although the strict regimentation is driving him to the brink …  And then over the brink, when the factory owner has him as the “guinea pig” for a “time-saving” feeding machine.  This leads to Charlie spending time in a mental hospital.   Cured after his breakdown, he is arrested and jailed.  After he innocently picks up a red flag that has fallen off the back of a truck and runs down the street to return it.  Just when a communist demonstration comes around the corner. He meets Paulette Goddard as “The Gamin” (a street urchin) in the back of the police van.  She has been arrested for stealing bread. From then on the theme is about the two trying to get along in … modern times

Review of Modern Times

Modern Times, (1936), starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette GoddardMany people consider Charlie Chaplin‘s classic film, Modern Times, to be Chaplin’s commentary on modern society, the dehumanization of the workers, the madness of modern society driving people mad, and various other themes.   All of these are valid, but at its’ heart, Modern Times is a love story.  A love story between Charlie the Little Tramp and a street urchin that he befriends, played by the lovely and talented Paulette Goddard.

Editorial review of Modern Times, starring Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, courtesy of

Charlie Chaplin is in glorious form in this legendary satire of the mechanized world. As a factory worker driven bonkers by the soulless momentum of work, Chaplin executes a series of slapstick routines around machines, including a memorable encounter with an automatic feeding apparatus. The pantomime is triumphant, but Chaplin also draws a lively relationship between the Tramp and a street gamin.

Modern Times - The Chaplin CollectionShe’s played by Paulette Goddard, then Chaplin’s wife and probably his best leading lady (here and in The Great Dictator ). The film’s theme gave the increasingly ambitious writer-director a chance to speak out about social issues, as well as indulging in the bittersweet quality of pathos that critics were already calling “Chaplinesque.” In 1936, Chaplin was still holding out against spoken dialogue in films, but he did use a synchronized soundtrack of sound effects and his own music, a score that includes one of his most famous melodies, “Smile.” And late in the film, Chaplin actually does speak — albeit in a garbled gibberish song, a rebuke to modern times in talking pictures. —Robert Horton

Trivia for Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin

  • Supposed to be Charlie Chaplin’s first full sound film, but instead, sound is used in a unique way:  We hear spoken voices only when they come from mechanical devices, a symbol of the film’s theme of technology and dehumanization. Specifically, voices are heard from:
    • The videophones used by the factory president.
    • The phonographic Mechanical Salesman.
    • The radio in the prison warden’s office.
    • The singers in the restaurant are also heard, and some scenes include sound effects.
  • The final appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp character.
  • Chaplin allows the Tramp to speak on camera for the first time during the restaurant scene.  But he insisted that what the Tramp says be universal. Therefore, the song the Tramp sings is in gibberish.  But it is possible to follow the story he tells by watching his hand gestures.
  • Charlie Chaplin wrote all the music for this and all of his other films. Modern Times contains his most enduring theme, Smile.
  • This was one of the films which, because of its political sentiments, convinced the House Un-American Activities Committee that Charles Chaplin was a Communist, a charge he adamantly denied.
  • A full dialogue script was written for the film, as Charles Chaplin had intended to make a complete talkie. According to a documentary on the DVD release, Chaplin went so far as to film a scene with full dialogue before deciding instead to make a partial talkie.
  • Co-star Paulette Goddard actually made significant story contributions.
  • According to Paulette Goddard, Chaplin was deeply and profoundly involved in the recording of the musical score. He spent days upon days in the recording studio writing themes, and only left when Paulette begged him.
  • In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #78 Greatest Movie of All Time.

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