Modern Times may, ironically, not adapt the beauty of sound so massively as other films of this generation, but it is of course a testament to the abilities of Charlie Chaplin that he can provide silent slapstick in the world of sound. Background noises and clanging machinery, rather than the Tramp (Chaplin) running his mouth all that often. Still, shunting out the literal changing of times, the modernity lacking in Modern Times is much to the benefit of Chaplin. He dips his toe into the water with the final appearance of the Tramp. His work here is expectedly great, with a keen focus on visuals, an attempt at incorporating pockets of sound, but never overhauling it for characters and smaller scenes. That much would be disastrous for the humour so inherent to this filmmaker.
With the dawn of the modern era, it seems, comes misery. The Tramp works in a horrid environment, but his effortless charm does not help him. Screens are held in toilets and supervisors are everywhere, and it is hard to feel much sympathy for the wry spirit of the Tramp here considering how detestable his early actions are. He’s not pulling his weight, but, then again, why would he? Backbreaking work should be shunned in the face of slapstick. Chaplin keeps himself quiet to let a story from supporting performers develop around him. It is the best of both worlds, acknowledging the future of movie-making yet depending so thoroughly on the silent types that showed up in his early works so often.
That balance is vital, and very well managed. Chaplin is thrown into machines, and the visual comedy runs free in these moments. Soup spilled on him, attacked and terrified by humanity and its desire to burst into the modern era. His stunning visual appeal is drawn on so frequently in these moments. He throws himself into every moment, hurtling his way into machinery. It is these moments that provide dream-like oddity, either that or this machine that spits out nondescript items is huge. Either way, the visualisation is astonishing. Chaplin’s eye for detail is dependable and entertaining, yet artistically fulfilling also. He carries that burden of strong direction and unique persona so very well; it brings out the best in his comedy and in his eye for framing a scene.
There is uncertainty clinging to the characters by the end of this feature, but that is the beauty of Modern Times. Chaplin left this character behind as he breached the fold of a new era for moviemakers, and rightly so. There is no way of knowing how well the Tramp would have adapted to the world beyond silence, although the offerings from Chaplin after this slapstick period are so truly different in both tone and meaning. His bumbling antics would feel a tad out of place in the likes of Monsieur Verdoux or Limelight, yet even then, there is always an ever-present but brief twinkle in his eye that reminds audiences of his Tramp character. Its impact as a character is astronomical, and Modern Times is perhaps the best farewell an audience could ask for such a striking persona on-screen. Formidable, entertaining, and a real milestone achievement, a stepping stone to sound in cinema.