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Charlie Chaplin at his sublime peak,
This review is from: Modern Times (Two-Disc Special Edition) (DVD)
The more I watch it, the more I feel that Charlie Chaplin's sublime silent MODERN TIMES (1936) is his finest film. THE GOLD RUSH (1925) is too desolate for my tastes, and CITY LIGHTS (1931) does not have the exquisite Paulette Goddard (then Chaplin's wife) as leading lady. MODERN TIMES is more episodic than other Chaplin features--six or seven one reel comedies strung together for 83 minutes. There are two incomparable segments set in a dehumanizing factory (in this silent film, the boss speaks over surveillance photography)--Chaplin gets caught inside the gears of a machine, while much later his boss, Chester Conklin from the Keystone Kops, has the same thing happen during lunch hour. It is hysterical to see Chaplin feed lunch to the upside down head of Conklin inside the machine. It is also pricelessly funny when Charlie is guinea pig for a new mechanized lunch demonstration that fails miserably.
Meanwhile, out along the waterfront (location work was done at San Pedro harbor), an indomitable Paulette Goddard watches as her father is killed by a mob, feeds bananas to children, and is helped by Chaplin out of a robbery of food when she is starving. The scenes with Goddard are heartbreakingly lovely, while Charlie is having a great time in prison--no work to do and free food! "Can't I please stay longer?" he asks the warden on a title card as he is being paroled. He will get his wish when he inadvertently becomes the leader of a labor rally waving a red Communist flag.
Eventually, Chaplin and Goddard set up housekeeping together in a waterfront shack. She tags along when he gets a job as an all night watchman in a department store. Paulette tries on a fur coat and goes to sleep on a bed up on the fourth or fifth floor. Charlie will wake her before the store opens. But first she watches aghast as he roller skates blindfolded, oblivious to a giant hole in the store four or five stories deep! Then while Paulette sleeps, Charlie tries to be a good security guard on the first floor. There is a story robbery, but one of the criminals recognizes an old pal from prison so they leave Charlie alone. He gets drunk on a barrel of booze, then eventually falls asleep in the lingerie department under a pile of clothes. Unemployment again in the morning.
Finally, Charlie tries his hand, with major coaching from Goddard, as a combination waiter and singer in a fancy restaurant. This is the very first time the Little Tramp talks in movies, singing a gibberish song. But Charlie quits the job when Paulette is arrested for vagrancy. Eluding the police, the two of them head off into a sunrise and bright new future in one of the loveliest endings in all of modern movie history for me. Chaplin's swansong to The Little Tramp forever. Movie comedies just don't get much better than this Depression era gem.
I have MODERN TIMES as part of the two-disk Chaplin Collection authorized by the Chaplin Estate. It looks and sounds like a million bucks, but curiously seems to have been trimmed by a few minutes from the 87 minute original. (All of the Chaplins seem slightly trimmed--for heaven's sake, why?) Disk two bonuses that will take you a good two hours to see--thus a full evening for everything--include a 30 minute chat with two Belgium filmmakers analyzing the movie as they watch it, deleted scenes, the nightclub gibberish song done as Karaoke to try and understand what on earth Chaplin is singing, the classic theme song "Smile" sung by Liberace, a Cuban village seeing their very first movie (MODERN TIMES) with great excitement, U.S. Labor shorts (which I could not get sound on), and a huge 250 stills production gallery.
MODERN TIMES is, quite simply, one of the great comedies of all time and, arguably, Chaplin's most sublime masterpiece. It is sold individually, as a double bill with CITY LIGHTS, as part of one of two Chaplin archives boxed sets, and probably rentable from Netflicks. With so many wonderful Harold Lloyd silent comedies now available in restored 35mm archive prints, along with the same for Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin is getting ignored again. Do watch MODERN TIMES to see the great Charlie at his greatest. Or near greatest.
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Initial post: Sep 30, 2010 5:09:10 PM PDT
Actually I've heard that all of Warner Bros.' Chaplin DVD's use UK PAL video sources, which runs 4% faster than US NTSC video - that may account for the slightly shorter running times.
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