Cinema: The New Pictures: Feb. 17, 1936

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Modern Times (Charles Chaplin) is the first picture made by its star since City Lights (1931) and his third in seven years. In it, Chaplin sings one song but does not speak. The other actors are heard only when the action permits their voices to be mechanized through phonographs, television sets, radios. A musical score, written by Chaplin, accompanies the film.

City Lights was produced when talkies were both so novel and so bad that silence helped rather than hindered the picture. No such advantage aided Chaplin with Modern Times. Even in 1936, however, his older admirers will be able to accept the character which he has immortalized on the screen without sense of shock at such obsolete cinematic devices as subtitles and exaggerated pantomime. What may be the reaction of 10,000,000 cinemaddicts who have grown into the audience since the days when Chaplin pictures were everyday occurrences, is a problem to be answered by the box office. Judging by its reception in Manhattan last week, Modern Times is likely to find a satisfactory niche in the winter program of U. S. cinema entertainment. It is a gay, impudent and sentimental pantomimic comedy in which even the anachronisms are often as becoming as Charlie Chaplin's cane.

A worker in a steel factory, Chaplin has to screw nuts on plates in an assembly line. He is dexterous but uneasy. A fly lights on his nose. He brushes it off. The belt gets ahead of him. He follows it into the maw of a gigantic machine which has to be reversed to return him to the line. At lunch time, the president of the factory uses him to test a new eating machine which throws soup in his face, jams a corncob against his teeth, pounds his face with a blotter. After this hideous experience, Chaplin goes wild. First he races about the factory pulling all the switches in sight. Next he goes outdoors and scares a lady by waving wrenches at her because the buttons on her dress remind him of the nuts on his assembly belt. Chaplin goes to jail where he enjoys life until, by helping quell a prison mutiny, he wins a pardon. Faced once more with the task of confronting a world where even less eccentric and more ambitious individuals are having a hard time, he experiences a series of disasters.

In a shipyard, a foreman asks for a wedge. Chaplin knocks one out of a cradle, thus launching an unfinished boat. He goes back to work in the steel factory. The workers go on strike. He gets a job as night watchman in a department store where he enjoys roller skating through the corridors at night. When three old cronies break into the store, Chaplin is constrained to share a snack with them in the wine department. Next morning he wakes up on a counter under a mass of lingerie. He goes to jail.

By this time Chaplin has made the acquaintance of a Gamin (Paulette Goddard). She has patched up a shack where both can live in airy disdain of the Hays organization. When Chaplin gets out of jail, the Gamin is dancing in a cabaret whose proprietor agrees to employ Chaplin as a singing waiter. There occurs a scene of tray juggling, followed by the Chaplin song, in gibberish. Juvenile court officials descend on the cabaret to arrest the Gamin. Escaping, she and Chaplin are last seen walking together up that desolate and endless road upon which so many of his films have sadly ended.

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