Behind the Scenes of the Movie Modern Times Part 2

About the film Modern Times, behind the scenes of Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece.

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MODERN TIMES (1936)

The Story behind the Story: This was the last appearance ever made by the Little Tramp, as Chaplin's baggy-pants character was known for two decades. Modern Times was also the last major silent picture made until Mel Brooks's Silent Movie. It was filmed in 1935 and released in 1936, almost 10 years after the advent of sound. Chaplin, the genius of silents, made a heroic stand against talkies, saying, "A good silent picture is superior to a good stage play, while a good talking picture is inferior to a good stage play." He planned to continue making silent films, using famous casualties of the sound era such as John Gilbert, but he got no further than Modern Times. His next picture, The Great Dictator, was done with recorded dialogue. (Actually, Modern Times does have a sound track, but it consists only of Chaplin's score, the gibberish ditty he sings while waiting on tables, and some sound effects.)

Chaplin, whose ideas for films often gestated for years, began thinking about Modern Times when a reviewer wrote that City Lights, a film Chaplin made in 1931 about a little flower girl, was sentimental and that Charlie should address himself to more realistic stories. Then the plot began to jell when a reporter told Chaplin about automobile assembly-line workers who went crazy on their jobs in Detroit factories.

Some of the reviews were favorable, others were not. Today Chaplin's gags and stunts seem devastatingly inventive and funny, but in 1936 Modern Times was not to the public's taste. They no longer found slapstick amusing and preferred the witty repartee of such films as The Thin Man and It Happened One Night.

Also, Chaplin's political views were questionable to many people, and they considered Modern Times to be communist propaganda. The film was banned in Germany and Italy. However, according to a critic who saw it in Moscow, the Russians thought it was an insulting commentary on Soviet efficiency and sat through it in absolute silence. Chaplin himself denied that the picture had political implications. "The theme is about two nondescripts trying to get along in modern times," he said. "There are those who always attach social significance to my work. It has none."

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