Friday, 8 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1936: Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying a factory worker in Modern Times.

Modern Times is a delightful semi-silent comedy about the struggle to live in an industrial society.

The way Modern Times is set up it can almost be looked upon as an origin for his tramp character since at the beginning of the film he is an employed factory worker. Well it's safe to say much hijinks will ensue, as it does from the first scene where the worker fails to maintain the assembly line as it simply becomes faster and faster. Chaplin's comic approach here is rather simple in that he plays every scene with a certain naivety with the worker. There is an enthusiasm about him in that he seems to want to try his best, but that probably means he's just going to screw up anyways. Chaplin's enthusiasm he brings in the improbable task is particularly enjoyable to watch. Chaplin adds a bit of extra comedy in this case though in that he gives a bit of "realism" in his worker as he has to deal with the line, as well as a torturous feeding machine, since he portrays the life wearing down the working to the point that he breakdown mentally. Of course this is all in good fun and most importantly quite funny.

The worker continues his transition to the tramp really by first endings up in the hospital after losing his job, then immediately finding himself in prison. What Modern Times is technically made up of is the worker failing at one thing from another. Whether it is failing not to get arrested by accidentally being mistaken for a communist organizer, or even failing at prison by thwarting a prison escape due to having mistakenly ingesting some cocaine.  To be honest this whole setup seems like something that could become repetitive considering it is basically the same thing over and over again. Well Chaplin as a director and actor keeps it ever feeling as such. Chaplin no matter what brings such energy to every single one of the situation and never does it feel as though he will ever let a setup go half-baked. He's there to sell every bit to its fullest and here is quite good in bringing a certain variation to his reactions to the setups even though the idea behind each is basically the same.

Chaplin here also does rather quietly formulate into the Tramp character in that he bridges the worker of the first scenes who goes through the hardships of mental breakdowns and prisons to eventually become the bum he was always meant to be. Although of course that bum still tries his hand a various jobs always managing to goof them up in one way or another, and usually in ways that are quite humorous to be sure. Again the whole set up, since many of the mistakes made by the Tramp that either get him fired or in jail or both are usually his own fault. This could make the character become annoying but it never does because of how endearing Chaplin really makes the worker who has become the tramp. I suppose it should also be noted that the Tramp does actually speak here, although only in a musical number that is pure gibberish. Like pretty much everything that Chaplin does in the film it is a very entertaining moment, and kinda sums up the Tramp character since you still can't hear what it is that he saying yet you completely understand what he means.

With Chaplin it never is purely about the laughs, even if those are in abundance as they are here, but the comedy is never without a heart. That element is particularly strong in Modern Times well founded through the Tramp's relationship with a girl in similar circumstances only known as a Gamin played by Paulette Goddard. Chaplin and Goddard are wonderful together as there is such a strong warmth that comes out of even the tiniest interaction they share. One could not ask for a sweeter couple to follow in the film with Chaplin's shy little smile, and Goddard brightly shining grin that might be one of the cutest imaginable. Their relationship though is not simply about the joy they share together but as well as the hardship, which is what perhaps makes Modern Times just so special. They are incredibly moving together in their moments of failing as everything seems to go wrong for them, even after it seems like things go right, and the sadness of each defeat is palatable despite being funny when it happened initially. There is always resilience in the pair with that final unforgettable moment where Chaplin presents still such a beautiful tenderness as the Tramp encourages her to keep going on even when things look at their worst. This is a marvelous performance that is a worthy sendoff for perhaps the most iconic character in cinematic history.


GM said...

Great! I'd give him a 5.

Anonymous said...

What are your ratings and thoughts on Paulette Goddard?

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I'd give him a 5 as well, he was great and so was Goddard. I also found that ending surprisingly moving, don't know why really, but it was just so nice and sweet, such a nice and sweet film. I love the scene where he just starts singinging 'off the cuff', so to speak.

Louis what are your top 5 Chaplin performances, and top 5 films. Great review as well, I've never realised it but yes it is a sort of origins story for the Tramp, the first prequel ever :D

luke higham said...

Louis: Will you review Chaplin in The Kid and The Gold Rush at some point in the future.

Michael McCarthy said...

Random question I know but is there any chance alan Arkin's rating for Wait Until Dark could go up on rewatch? Because I'm watching the movie again now and it seems damn near perfect.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

On the subject of changing ratings, I must once again remind you to lower Sean Penn in I Am Sam to a 1.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

What are your thoughts/ratings on:

The cast of Sahara (1943)
The cast of Five Graves to Cairo

luke higham said...

Louis: Can I have your Re-thoughts on Ian McDiarmid in Revenge Of The Sith, since the last time I checked your '05 Supporting ranking, he was 61. and now he's 50.

luke higham said...

Louis: And the rating for McDiarmid as well.

Louis Morgan said...


Goddard - 4.5(A lovely lovely performance, yes both lovelys are needed. Goddard's performance on her own is a very charming and quietly rather funny depiction of her own set of misfortunes. She's quite special in the way she gets those feelings of depression across in a expression while remaining luminous all the same. What's best though is how well she compliments Chaplin with her performance. They are magic together)



Bogart - 4(It's a solid straight forward leading hero type of performance by Bogart. He brings a enough quiet assurance in his command while doing rather well in delivering quickly in the moments where he reacts to yet another fallen comrade)

Ingram - 3.5(Most of the supporting cast in the film bring a little something here actually even if they do not have too much to work with overall. Ingram is quite good bringing a nice charm to his role, and a bit of heart. I particularly liked the scene where he describes the amount of wives he's suppose to have only to say he has just one, as he makes such an honest piece of dialogue in the scene bringing a great deal of weight to the upcoming battle)

Nugent - 3(Does the slightly more proper Brit routine in a realistic feeling fashion, without ever overplaying his role)

Mercier- 3(Like Nugent, does not get all Frenchy instead brings just another man working in the fight)

Kreuger - 2(Well he's a bit more on the obvious side of things and overplays the evil Nazi routine a bit)

Duryea, Bennett, Bridges - 3(Again not anything too notable about their roles but they make their characters feel honest)

Five Graves to Cairo

Tone - 3.5(Tone I think was designed as a less charismatic Leslie Howard, well when Howard felt like being so charismatic anyways. Tone though is pretty good here as he makes a rather likable lead for us follow, and doing the switching to fake spy act rather well too)

Tamiroff - 3(He keeps his usual trademark overacting in check here, and is far better than in his Oscar nominated turn from the same year. He has a relatively standard role, but he's pretty good in bringing a certain warmth as well as a bit of fun in the whole trying to keep the trick on the Nazis routine going)


It's possible.


There I did it you happy now!!! Hmm I actually starting to feel happier myself.


Possibly in regards to Chaplin's earlier works.

In regards to McDiarmid I was just randomly thinking that he is genuinely good in the Opera scene. His other scenes are hideously hammy, but at least are worth a few laughs in that regard.