Movie Review: 1936 – Modern Times, Charley Chaplain
Having read some history about Charlie Chaplain though only seeing a Charlie Chaplain movie for the first time now, the theme of this movie seems quite related to his life – growing up dirt poor, his mother checked them into a “work house” rather than literally continue to live under stairs. Poor people didn’t get rent payments and food stamps in England is those days- they got jail like conditions, separation from their family, and were meant to work because it was believed it was their lack of work that caused them to be poor.
The movie features exactly those themes, though in a comedic way … which may have seemed funnier at the time through the prism of someone living through the Great Depression who could relate and desperately needed an outlet such as a movie like this. This includes Chaplain going to jail where he doesn’t want to leave, taking the blame for others’ misdeeds (he was once beaten in the workhouse in front of everyone else because he took the blame for another child), and children are ripped from their parents. He shows the evils of society around him where the rich dominate the poor and the poor steal a loaf of bread Jean val Jean style or break into department stores with guns … those gun people who try to shoot him to death are sympathized … the police are evil, ruining people’s lives.
Chaplain’s character starts out in a factory where workers are juxtaposed with sheep following the herd not too long before George Orwell picked up the theme in multiple novels. Chaplain is a cog in a machine complete with a forced feeding machine to make lunch faster … which, incidently, appears to have been picked up by “Pigs is Pigs” a Looney Toons short to come out one year later which I remembered from my childhood. Chaplain’s walk, toes far out, overly large shoes, and a wobble back and forth, seems to be the inspiration for Krusty the Klown (The Simpsons fan wiki lists many references to Chaplain, though not this one … yet).
The humor is … interesting by today’s standards. It’s quixotically funny until you realize … wait, that was a scene where Chaplain was high on cocaine. No, really. Then he moves in with a girl who is maybe 16 (she is a juvenile delinquent meant to have gone to an orphanage). Statutory … nevermind. … moving on to violence – there are three Stooges-like gags well before the three Stooges with beams falling on heads and dives into shallow water where you’d break your spine, etc, etc. That’s not the worst of it: It’s somehow funny when his colleague is dragged between large roller-pin like gears with teeth and doesn’t turn into a pile of goop … instead being stuck. immovable, in the gears while Charlie Chaplain drops burning hot coffee in his mouth. Is this one of the Saw movies or is this a comedy? Maybe Saw was as comedy and I misunderstood it (actually, I couldn’t watch that garbage – what kind if sick monster wrote that stuff? Charlie Chaplain’s kin or something?)
Regarding women, as they change through time in movies and I have been writing about them – here, the 16 year old female lead actually is no better or worse off than Charlie. In the end, she is the one to take the lead and get Charlie the first job as a singer/dancer, and the first one he doesn’t lose. She is the one who helps him up – by way of wearing a sexy dress and dancing for men, but whatever. We’re doing better than the other movies so far. … and we can’t say that only the male is self-actualized because I would argue neither are. In the end, he raises her spirits and they go off still never succeeding (in a touching way, really).
It’s an interesting movie with populist working man themes which are still relevant and repeated today. Suffice to say, such themes were more poignant during the Great Depression and the violence is now what we call a horror film instead of a comedy. Of the old movies I’ve been reviewing as of late, despite being a silent film, this is easily the most enjoyable and watchable as a whole.
I minored in Comparative Literature and would totally get an “A” if this were a paper I turned in… as you can see, lots of practice.