AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Modern Times
Director: Charlie Chaplin (Dir)
Release Date:   21 Feb 1936
Premiere Information:   New York premiere: 5 Feb 1936; Los Angeles premiere: 12 Feb 1936
Production Date:   Oct 1934--Nov 1935
Duration (in mins):   87
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Charlie Chaplin (A factory worker)  
    Paulette Goddard (A gamin)  
    Henry Bergman (A cafe proprietor)  
    Stanley Sandford (Burglar/Big Bill)  
    Chester Conklin (A mechanic)  
    Hank Mann (Burglar)  
    Stanley Blystone (Sheriff Couler)  
    Allan Garcia (President of the Electro Steel Corp.)  
    Dick Alexander (A convict)  
    Cecil Reynolds (The chaplain)  
    Myra McKinney (The chaplain's wife)  
    Murdoch McQuarrie    
    Wilfred Lucas    
    Ed Le Sainte    
    Fred Malatesta    
    Sam Stein    
    Juana Sutton    
    Ted Oliver    
    Louis Natheaux (Burglar/The addict)  

Summary: An oppressed assembly-line factory worker is used as a guinea pig for his employer's test of an Automatic Feeding Machine. The machine malfunctions, nearly driving the worker crazy. In a nervous frenzy, he runs madly through the factory, spraying oil everywhere. He is taken to a hospital, but immediately after his release, is arrested when he is mistaken for a radical leader. Prison life is comfortable, and he reluctantly accepts parole after he heroically stops a jailbreak. Outside, he discovers mass unemployment, and despite a glowing letter of recommendation, he cannot hold a job. Eager to return to jail, he gallantly admits to stealing a loaf of bread to save a starving gamin. The result is that they are both arrested, but manage to escape the police. Together, they dream of a middle class life, and when the worker becomes a department store night watchman, they happily play among the luxuries they cannot afford. One night, burglars enter the store, and the worker is arrested again. The gamin tries to make a home for him in an abandoned shack, and this time, when he is released, his factory has reopened. He goes back to work repairing machines, but a strike puts him out of a job and back in jail. The gamin finally gets employment dancing in a cafe, and when the worker is freed, he becomes a singing waiter. Despite his ineptness, he makes a hit with an improvised nonsense song, but just as the couple are a success, the police try to arrest the gamin, who is wanted for running away from Juvenile Hall. The worker and the gamin escape the officers and set out on the road together. 

Production Company: Charles Chaplin Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Charlie Chaplin (Dir)
  Carter DeHaven [Sr.] (Asst dir)
  Henry Bergman (Asst dir)
Producer: Charlie Chaplin (Prod)
Writer: Charlie Chaplin (Wrt)
Photography: Rollie Totheroh (Photog)
  Ira Morgan (Photog)
  Mark Marlatt (Asst cam)
  Ted Minor (Asst cam)
  Morgan Hill (Asst cam)
  Max Munn Autrey (Portrait photog)
Art Direction: Danny Hall (Art dir)
  Charles D. Hall (Settings)
  Russell Spencer (Settings)
Film Editor: Charlie Chaplin (Film ed)
Music: Charlie Chaplin (Mus comp)
  Alfred Newman (Mus cond)
  Edward Powell (Mus arr)
  David Raksin (Mus arr)
Sound: Paul Neal (Rec)
  Frank Maher (Rec)
Special Effects: Bud Thackeray (Process photog)
Make Up: Elizabeth Arden (Screen-stage makeup for Chaplin and Goddard by)
Production Misc: Della Steele (Scr clerk)
  Hal Atkins (Props)
  Bob Depps (Props)
  Allan Garcia (Casting dir)
  Alfred Reeves (Gen prod mgr)
  Jack Wilson (Asst prod mgr)
  Joe Van Meter (Purchasing agent)
  Don Donaldson (Gaffer)
  Garwood Averill (Projectionist)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" by Harry Kirby McClintock.
Composer: Harry Kirby McClintock

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Charles Chaplin 5/2/1936 dd/mm/yyyy LP6124 Yes

PCA NO: 1596
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Si: with sd eff, mus and singing by Western Electric

 
Genre: Comedy
 
Subjects (Major): Class distinction
  The Depression, 1929
  Factory workers
  Orphans
  Prison life
  Romance
  Tramps
  Unemployment
 
Subjects (Minor): Arrests
  Cafés
  Cocaine
  Dancers
  Department stores
  Hunger
  Inventions
  Mechanics
  Mistaken identity
  Nervous breakdown
  Police
  Radicalism
  Roller-skating
  Waiters

Note: An interview with Charles Chaplin in Film Pictorial on 22 Dec 1934 states that Chaplin expected to finish the film some time in Jan 1935, making his shooting time about three and a half months. Final shooting did not take place until late summer 1935, however. The interview also states that three huge studio sets had been built and seven acres of ground had been leased at the Los Angeles harbor, where Chaplin was erecting a village for exterior scenes. According to a DV news item on 19 Jun 1935, portions of this film were shot on location in San Pedro, CA. A 22 Oct 1934 HR news item states that the film was being shot almost entirely at night, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was known only as "Production No. 5" until mid-Jul 1935, when Modern Times was announced as its title. As reported in DV on 23 Jul 1935, reorganization at United Artists slowed up the picture considerably, and the studio was inactive for most of Jul. On 3 Aug 1935, HR stated that the previous day, Chaplin had 250 persons working in the cabaret scene in the film, and that the film was completed except for a few added scenes, following which it would be synchronized and sound effects would be added. An article in Picturegoer Weekly on 23 Nov 1935 announced that the film was finally "in the can." The New York premiere, originally scheduled for 16 Jan 1936, was postponed because Chaplin said the film was not ready. According to an interview in NYT on 2 Feb 1936, Chaplin said he chose not to attend the New York premiere because the last occasion he was there, "I had a terrible time battling through the crowds that gathered wherever I went. And while I don't think I am as well-known now as I was then, I dread the thought of being stared and pointed at as though I were a freak." In the interview, Chaplin also divulged how the idea and title of his film originated: "I was riding in my car one day and saw a mass of people coming out of a factory, punching time-clocks, and was overwhelmed with the knowledge that the theme note of modern times is mass production. I wondered what would happen to the progress of the mechanical age if one person decided to act like a bull in a china shop." The NYT article also states that the film had a minor setback in Jan 1936 when Joseph I. Breen of the Hays Office ordered six sequences deleted because of vulgarity. A memo dated 6 Jan 1936, contained in the film's file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, lists Breen's recommended eliminations as follows: "1) The first part of the "pansy" gag; 2) The word "dope" in the printed title; 3) Most of the business of the stomach rumbling on the part of the minister's wife and Charlie; 4) The entire brassiere gag in the department store; 5) The close up shot of the udders of the cow." Breen's recommended eliminations were carried out in full and the film was approved by the Hays Office on 13 Jan 1936.
       The film marked Chaplin's return to the screen after five years. According to contemporary sources, Chaplin received no outside financing for this film, and for the first time worked from a completed script. Chaplin's last "silent" film, Modern Times contains sound effects and synchronized music, but uses title cards in place of dialogue. Chaplin's performance of the nonsense song, sung to the tune "Titine," was the first time his voice was heard on film. According to a 1980 DV news item, the gibberish song Chaplin sings "stems from a classic old ribald joke about the girl who goes to [a] pawnbroker to cash in the ring she earned by getting picked up only to be told by him it's a fake. The tag-line, uttered by her, was 'My God, I've been raped!'" The song went as follows: "La Spinach or la tuko/Cigaretto, toto torio/E rusho spaga letto/Je le tu le tu le twaa.../La der la ser pawnbroker/Lusern spre how mucher/E ses, confess a potcha/Ponka walla ponka waa!"
       Chaplin's score also contains the melody for the song "Smile," for which Geoffrey Parsons and John Turner later wrote lyrics. Strains of the melody for "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" are repeated throughout the film. The score, entitled "A Modern Symphony," received critical acclaim at the time of the film's production and was performed by the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra. Modern Times marked the first film work for music arranger David Raksin (1912--2004), who became a major motion picture composer. One of his most acclaimed scores was the haunting theme from the 1944 Twentieth Century-Fox film Laura (see above).
       Chaplin was guaranteed a minimum of $125,000 for a ten-week run of Modern Times at New York's Rivoli Theatre in 1936. As reported in HR on 10 Mar 1936, several Broadway theaters were running re-issues of old Chaplin films to compete with the Rivoli's Modern Times run. According to news items out of Singapore on 7 Apr 1936, following a ban of Modern Times as "communistic" in Germany and Italy, Chaplin stated, "Dictators seem to believe the picture is Communistic. It's absolutely untrue. In view of recent happenings, I am not surprised at the ban. But our only purpose was to amuse. I have no political aims whatever as an actor. And anything Communistic would be quickly stamped out in the United States." The news items also stated that Paulette Goddard returned with Chaplin from Java wearing a wedding ring, and that the couple had reportedly married on a steamship while en route to Singapore from the Far East.
       As reported in HR on 23 Apr 1937, Film Sonores Tobis of France filed a suit against Chaplin, claiming he borrowed heavily from the René Clair directed film Á nous la liberté , to which Tobis owned the rights. According to a memo dated 25 May 1936 found in the PCA file on Modern Times , Tobis had claimed damages totalling $1,200,000. Clair refused to support the claim, however. The director, who admitted that his work had been inspired by Chaplin, said he was "honored and flattered" that Chaplin would borrow from him. Modern sources list the following additional players: Lloyd Ingraham ( The governor ), John Rand ( Crook ), and Heinie Conklin ( A workman ). In modern interviews, Gloria De Haven, the daughter of Carter De Haven, stated that she was an extra in this, her first, film. In autobiographical writings, Oscar Levant stated that conductor Alfred Newman walked out following an argument with Chaplin over the direction of the score and that Edward Powell was called in to direct the score for the last reel of the film.
       Modern Times was ranked 78th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 81st position it held on AFI's 1997 list. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   15 Feb 1936.   
Daily Variety   19 Jun 35   p. 2.
Daily Variety   18 Jul 35   p. 1.
Daily Variety   23 Jul 35   p. 1.
Daily Variety   30 Dec 1935.   
Daily Variety   9 Jan 1980.   
The Exhibitor   15 Feb 36   p. 33.
Film Daily   31 Jan 36   p. 7.
Film Daily   7 Feb 36   p. 10.
Film Pictorial   22 Dec 1934.   
Hollywood Citizen-News   7 Apr 1936.   
Hollywood Reporter   3 Aug 35   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   18 Dec 35   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Dec 35   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jan 36   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Feb 36   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Feb 36   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Feb 1936.   
Hollywood Reporter   10 Mar 36   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Apr 37   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Apr 39   p. 2.
Motion Picture Daily   6 Feb 36   p. 6.
Motion Picture Daily   7 Feb 36   p. 5.
Motion Picture Herald   8 Feb 36   p. 9.
MPSI   Feb 35   p. 24.
New York Times   6 Feb 36   p. 23.
Picturegoer Weekly   23 Nov 35   pp. 10-11.
Variety   12 Feb 36   p. 16.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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