Modern Times

 
Families will cherish Chaplin's silent slapstick.
  • Review Date: May 11, 2003
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1936
  • Running Time: 103 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Viewers get a picture of U.S. life during the Great Depression and labor struggles. And kids learn what it's like to watch a silent movie. 

Positive messages

Made during and set in the Great Depression, the film is clearly a pointed comic study of haves and have-nots and a celebration of resilience in the face of great adversity. The initial frame of the picture announces that it is "a story of industry, of individual enterprise -- humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness."

Positive role models

In this film, silly thinly disguises profound. Chaplin's seeming cluelessness, clumsiness, and tendency to make mistakes of gigantic proportion cover an honest, hardworking, generous, and optimistic nature. The needy and unemployed are portrayed with compassion; the rich are callous, unforgiving, and selfish. In one very obvious visual comparison, men at work are equated with sheep. The female co-lead is clever, brave, and independent.

 

Violence & scariness

Lots of cartoon action and sight gags without any injury or consequence. Characters get bopped on the head, squirted with oil, kicked in the rear, fall in the water, and have portions of buildings fall on them. There are assorted scenes with man battling machines: getting caught in their mechanisms and being hit in the face with the levers and parts. Gun shots go awry; innocents as well as the guilty are chased by police and held at gunpoint by thieves. Several sequences depict striking workers and the poor rioting against the authorities. The only serious violent act occurs when a man lies dead in the street, a victim of a gunshot during rioting. His daughter grieves at the sight of his body. 

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Language

The word "darkies" is heard in one song lyric.

Consumerism

Hills Bros., Morton salt.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Chaplin's Little Tramp accidentally gets drunk when alcohol pours out of a barrel; he wobbles and is bleary-eyed. Several athletes appear drunk in a restaurant melee. In a prison scene that was controversial even when the film was made, Chaplin mistakes white "nose powder" for salt, ingests it, and appears to be "under the influence."   

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that beneath the silent film slapstick comedy and the artistry of Chaplin there is a serious political thread that pits the working man against powerful authority figures. So while kids will be thoroughly entertained by sight gags, comic mayhem, and outrageous characters, grownups and teens will see razor-sharp commentary about class differences and the struggle of the poor and middle class. Action is vintage farce -- pratfalls, bumps on the head, man vs. machine, errant gunshots, and car chases. There is one brief but serious moment when a man is killed during a workers' riot. Several scenes show characters smoking and others involve drunkenness. One lengthy sequence finds Chaplin accidentally ingesting smuggled white "nose powder," and behaving erratically afterward. Though most of the film is silent, there are some synchronized sound effects and singing.

What's the story?

MODERN TIMES is about two people struggling with the isolation of the industrial era. Charlie Chaplin (simply called \"A worker\" in the credits) is an assembly line worker who loses his job after a work accident. Sonn he finds himself leading a communist parade while just trying to return a red flag to a man who dropped it, and is sent to prison. When he comes upon an attempted escape, Chaplin captures the prisoners and releases the guards, and is pardoned because of his heroism. Chaplin soon is determined to go back to jail, and finds his chance when he sees a poor girl (Paulette Goddard) stealing bread, and confesses that it was he who stole it. But a witness identifies Goddard. After a series of missteps and trips through jail, Chaplin and Goddard eventually walk off into the sunset together.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Viewers have to remind themselves how prescient this movie was. To us, it may not be surprising that the boss watches the workers on screen, but this was before the invention of television -- and more than a decade before the publication of Orwell's 1984. Interestingly, it was several years after the invention of the talkies. But Chaplin wanted to make a silent movie, and silent this one is, except for a few words, some sound effects, and a gibberish song.

Children will adore the slapstick in this movie, especially the scenes where Chaplin tries out the feeding machine and when he experiments with roller skates at the department store.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the Depression and the concerns about the dehumanizing effect of technology that are a part of this movie. Why did the boss want Chaplin to try the eating machine? What would Frank Gilbreth of "Cheaper By the Dozen" think of the machine? 

  • Why did Chaplin want to go back to jail? Why didn't Goddard want to go to jail? Did Chaplin want you to think that prison was like the factory? Better? How can you tell? How did Chaplin and Goddard differ in their reactions to their troubles? 

  • High school kids: Why was Chaplin arrested for leading the communist parade? Does that violate the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment?

  • In what way is a silent film different from a "talkie" -- besides the fact that it's silent? 

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 25, 1936
DVD release date:March 14, 2000
Cast:Charlie Chaplin, Henry Bergman, Paulette Goddard
Director:Charlie Chaplin
Studio:United Artists
Genre:Comedy
Run time:103 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byD_anIe-l October 22, 2009
age 5+
 

perfect for anyone

Chaplin was a poet heart,hes movies always will be inspiration for several
Parent of a 6 and 8 year old Written byCowDung August 18, 2011
age 6+
 

Good movie for everyone

My kids saw this movie 'accidentally'. It came on as I was flipping through channels. I was thinking that my kids (ages 6 and 8) wouldn't even give it a chance but they were 'sucked in' almost immediately by Chaplin's antics and insisted that I not change the channel. From their laughs, I think the kids enjoyed it as much as any of their 'modern' favorites.
Teen, 14 years old Written byJohanjwalker April 9, 2008
age 0+
 

This is wonderful and hilarious! Charlie Chaplin, 1, Jim Carrey, 0!

I love this film. One of the greates and funniest and most kid-friendly movies of all time. There's just on problem- getting your kid to watch it because this movie is in black and whit which is frowned upon in modern-day american kids usually. But once they start watching it, they will never stop laughing. Forget Jim Carrey and Tim Allen and all those clowns. Go for Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers and all those guys. They are hilarious. Nothing offensive here at all, just a scene of thwarted prison break, and some gun shooting, oh yes and there's this one time where Charlie accidentally and without knowing it ingests some cocaine, or nose powder. But its wonderful. Force your kids to watch it, if needed. It is hilarious and wonderful entertainment.

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