troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Film: Modern Times

Modern Times is a 1936 American comedy film by Charlie Chaplin that has his iconic Tramp character struggling to survive in the modern, industrialized world. The film is a comment on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced during The Great Depression, conditions created, in Chaplin's view, by the efficiencies of modern industrialization. The movie stars Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Stanley Sandford and Chester Conklin, and was written and directed by Chaplin.

The movie begins with the Tramp working at a factory, screwing nuts and bolts on a conveyor belt, where he eventually suffers a nervous breakdown. He's sent to a mental hospital. After he recovers he soon finds that he's out of a job. He's soon mistakenly accused of being a Communist after accidentally and unknowingly happening to participate in a socialist march and pick up a red flag someone had dropped, and is thrown in jail. Ironically he finds jail to be more hospitable than the outside world. Throw in a poor orphan girl (noted in the credits as the "gamin") as a love interest and you have one of Chaplin's most critically acclaimed feature films.

The film was Chaplin's last-ditch effort to stay loyal to the style of the silent films that had made his career. There is audible dialogue, but only from artificial sources; whenever people talk face to face, it's done silently with caption cards, as a clear statement of Chaplin's view on the new filmmaking tool.


Modern Times includes the following tropes:

  • Absurdly Dedicated Worker: Chaplin goes berserk working on an assembly line tightening bolts in an ever accelerating conveyor belt. He eventually gets caught inside the machinery (where even there he's busy tightening bolts), and after he gets rescued he continues going through the motions, tweaking noses and buttons with wrenches on both hands.
  • Accidental Hero: Chaplin thwarts a prison break by dodging bullets and pummeling the escaping prisoners. But he only does so because he was high on cocaine—another prisoner hid his stash in the salt shaker to avoid getting busted, and Charlie sprinkles it all over his lunch.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The Tramp's "singing waiter" number near the end of the film, which sounds like a mixture between French and Italian, but really is gibberish. It was the first time that the Tramp's voice was heard in a movie, and Chaplin wanted the character to continue to transcend all language boundaries.
  • Author Tract: Against the problems caused by the things meant to solve problems, as well as the artificiality of sound film.
  • Barefoot Poverty: Goddard's character is barefoot for most of the film because she's so poor she can't afford shoes.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: In the factory, the company president has a two-way video screen that can watch all areas of the factory - including in the restrooms.
  • Bittersweet Ending/No Ending/Riding Into The Dawn: The film ends with the Tramp and the girl on their own, fugitives from the law, walking into the sunrise—although the Tramp is still upbeat enough to not let their troubles get them down.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much a sign of the times.
  • Crash into Hello: Chaplin meets his love interest in the movie this way; she had just stolen a loaf of bread, and ran at full speed around a corner before crashing straight into him.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: When he goes up against three armed prisoners with nothing but his fists and a nearby door. And wins.
  • Disastrous Demonstration: The Billows Feeding Machine is demonstrated with the Tramp, which goes memorably awry.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Chaplin composed the film's music score, including the classic "Smile".
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The Tramp gets high on cocaine while in prison. It's not referred to as cocaine, only as "nose powder", but there's no other way to interpret that scene! Quite daring for its time, since The Hays Code (in effect from 1930 to 1968) didn't allow drug references in movies.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: The gamin, after her father gets shot.
  • Intoxication Ensues: While in prison Chaplin mistakes cocaine for salt and ingests a generous dose. In the ensuing frenzy he ends up foiling a prison break and is hailed as a hero.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: A couple of comments that could double as Chaplin's attitude towards talking films. The record player that advertises the Billows Feeding Machine says, among other things, "actions speak louder than words". And when the Tramp can't remember the words to his song, a title card has the gamin saying "Sing! Never mind the words."
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Chaplin's character regards his prison as this, though it is only luxurious in comparison to how much worse it was to be living on the streets during The Great Depression. Of course, the fact that after he accidentally prevents a prison break he's treated extra nicely by the guards and the warden helps.
  • Missing Mom: And to make things worse, the father of Paulette Goddard's character gets shot.
  • No Name Given: For any of the main characters. Although if you look at the arrest warrant, Goddard's character is apparently named "Ellen Peterson".
  • No OSHA Compliance: This film provides the image on the trope page. OSHA hadn't been made yet at the time, but any real factory where you might end up being a literal part of the machine traveling between the cogs would have been thought a bit much, even back then.
  • Sanity Slippage: While Charlie is working at the factory. He begins to try and take a wrench to everything in sight... including a woman's breasts.
  • Silence Is Golden: Modern Times was essentially a silent film with a recorded soundtrack. The only real dialog comes from either recordings or loudspeakers (i.e., not natural speech), Chaplin's way of pointing out his opinion of the artificiality of sound film. Released seven years after the rest of Hollywood had gone over to talkies, and the last major release of a silent film for forty years, until Mel Brooks with Silent Movie in 1976.
  • Singing Simlish: The aforementioned song sequence.
  • The Speed Of Silents: Enforced - despite being shot at a modern (sound film) frame rate, the movie is slightly undercranked for a Retraux fast motion effect.
  • Suddenly Voiced: The Tramp, who bursts into song towards the end of the film.
  • Typewriter Eating: Played for Black Comedy: The malfunctioning feeding machine subjects the tramp to this, a sign of just how much the factory environment has dehumanized him.
  • Video Phone: The factory the Tramp works in has this in the bathroom.
    "Hey! Quit stalling! Get back to work!"
  • Wanted Poster: Juvenile Hall is looking for Paulette Goddard.
All the President's MenAFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies ( 10 th Anniversary Edition)The Wild Bunch
The Wild BunchAFI's 100 Years... 100 MoviesGiant
Mary of ScotlandFilms of the 1930sMr. Deeds Goes to Town
MissingCreator/The Criterion CollectionMon Oncle
No Animals Were HarmedImageSource/Live-Action FilmsNo OSHA Compliance
Me and Orson WellesThe Great DepressionThe Music Box
City LightsSilent MovieSilent Movie
The CrowdNational Film RegistrySnow White and the Seven Dwarfs
The MisfitsCreator/United ArtistsThe Mouse That Roared
City LightsCreator/Magnetic VideoThe Great Dictator

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
13810
35