76. Modern Times (1936)

United Artists 1923-52

Film still for Modern Times


A view of a flock of sheep seen rushing through a gate is juxtaposed with crowds of men pouring out of the subway and into a vast modern factory. Charlie is working on a production line doing a repetitive job, tightening two nuts at a time. In his office, the President whiles away the time doing jigsaw puzzles and reading the papers while watching the factory floor on a series of huge television screens. Charlie misses a nut and has to work twice as fast to catch up with himself. He steals out for a smoke but is seen on the screens from which there is apparently no hiding place. The president decides to speed up production by feeding the men by machine as they work. Charlie can't stop his repetitive motion and spills his colleague's soup. He is picked for a demonstration and a machine feeds him soup and corn on the cob, and then wipes his mouth. Inevitably the machine is as unforgiving as the conveyor belt. Charlie is fed metal nuts and the machine shoves cake in his face again and again. He finally snaps at this mechanical treatment and goes mad, dancing around the factory, tightening nuts as he goes. He is fed into a giant machine and goes round and round the cogs and gears until the machine is reversed and he is spat back out. He dances off out of the factory, tightening anything that looks like a nut, including the buttons on a matronly woman's dress. Charlie returns to the factory, clocking in as he goes, and causes more mayhem by oiling everything in sight with an oilcan. He is carried away still twitching to the hospital.

A cured but unemployed Charlie roams the streets. Finding a red warning flag which has dropped off a truck he picks it up an just as a large communist rally marches round the corner. Arrested as a ringleader he is carted off to jail. At the wharf-side the gamine is stealing is stealing bananas for herself and some children. At the shack where she lives she shares out the food with her sisters and her father who is down on his luck. Charlie meanwhile, is in jail confined with a huge man who does needlepoint. During a search for 'nose powder' Charlie mistakenly inhales some cocaine hidden in a saltcellar. And wanders off in a daze. He encounters an attempted jailbreak and, with his newfound strength rescues the Warden. Outside, the girl's father is killed in a street riot of unemployed and the little sisters are taken off to the orphanage. The gamine escapes.

Charlie hears about his pardon on the radio in is comfortably appointed cell. Reluctant to leave, he is booted out of prison into the unforgiving outside world. He gets a job, on a letter of recommendation, at a shipyard but soon loses it when the foreman asks Charlie to pass him a wedge. Charlie selects the all-important one from under the ship and the half built vessel slides gracefully down the slipway. He leaves quietly. The gamine steals a loaf of bread and is chased. She runs straight into Charlie who takes the rap for her. The girl is very taken by his kindness but Charlie's only thought is to return to his comfortable jail cell. A witness steps forward to say it wasn't him so he orders a huge meal in a café that he can't pay for and is finally arrested with the girl. In the police wagon she tells him her sad story, but as they round a sharp bend the door bursts open and they are free. They decide to set up home and Charlie gets a job as a night watchman in a department store, when he sees the previous incumbent being carried out with a broken leg. During the night he sneaks the girl in and they play house, eating from the cafeteria and sleeping in the new beds. Charlie finds some skates in the toy department and shows off by skating around the balcony blindfold. Unaware that the rail is missing he narrowly misses it every time. Burglars break into the store as Charlie makes his rounds. He gets a face full of wine when a shot from one of the burglars pierces a wine barrel, and gets drunk. The gamine meanwhile sleeps on. Big Bill, Charlie's former cellmate, is one of the gang and greets Charlie as an old friend. He is unemployed and desperate. They settle down to reminisce and drink. The girl narrowly escapes capture in the morning when the day watch arrives. Charlie is nowhere to be seen until he is discovered sleeping it off and arrested.

Ten days later the girl is waiting for him on his release and takes him to the home she has found for them. It is a very rickety shack but they make the best of it in imitation of their ideal house. Reading that the factories are reopening, Charlie races off to get a job determined to make good. He is the last to be taken on and is given a job operating a massive press. He manages to crush several objects before trapping a colleague under it. The whistle blows for lunch and Charlie obligingly feeds his workmate before he can free him. They hear that a strike has been called. Outside there is unrest and Charlie unhappily steps on a plank, which catapults a brick at a cop and he is arrested once more. In his absence the girl has got a job as a dancer in a café and she tries to get Charlie a job as a singing waiter on his release. He is given a trial and causes the usual chaos in the dining room, hooking a duck on the chandelier as he holds the tray high to avoid the crush, going through the 'out' door of the kitchen and drilling holes in the cheese to make it authentically Dutch. When faced with the prospect of singing Charlie is in trouble. He can't remember the words and although the girl has written them on his cuffs, they fly off in the first artistic flourish. He is obliged to make up a plausible foreign song on the spot and is a great hit. But at the moment of his success the authorities arrive for the girl. The pair make a run for it, and on the road again the girl is in despair. Charlie cheers her up and hand in hand they walk off into the horizon.


Chaplin-United Artists
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Charles Chaplin
Roland Totheroh, Ira Morgan
Assistant Directors:
Carter De Haven, Henry Bergman
Art Directors:
Charles D. Hall, Russell Spencer
Charles Chaplin
Edward Powell, David Raksin
Musical Director:
Alfred Newman
Musical themes used in addition to original compositions:
'Halleluiah, I'm a Bum','Prisoners' Song' (C. Massey),'How Dry Am I', 'In the Evening By the Moonlight' (Bland), 'Je cherche après Titine' (Duncan and Daniderff)
Charles Chaplin (A Worker)
Paulette Goddard (Gamine)
Henry Bergman (Cafe Owner)
Stanley J. Sanford (Big Bill and Worker)
Chester Conklin (Mechanic)
Hank Mann (Burglar)
Louis Natheaux (Burglar)
Stanley Blystone (Sheriff Couler)
Allan Garcia (Company Boss)
Sam Stein (Foreman)
Juana Sutton (Woman with Buttoned Bosom)
Jack Low (Worker)
Walter James (Worker)
Dick Alexander (Convict)
Dr Cecil Reynolds (Prison Chaplain)
Myra McKinney (Chaplain's Wife)
Lloyd Ingraham (Prison Governor)
Heinie Conklin (Workman)
John Rand (Convict)
Murdoch McQuarrie
Wilfred Lucas
Edward le Saint
Fred Maltesta
Ted Oliver
Edward Kimball
Production started:
September 1933
Production finished:
12 January 1936
5 February 1936, Rivoli Theatre, New York
London Premiere:
11 February 1936, Tivoli Theatre
8126 ft