Blu-ray Disc Review: Modern Times

The Criterion Collection
Movie ••••Picture ••••Sound •••½ Extras ••••½

The producers of René Clair’s 1931 À nous la liberté sued Charlie Chaplin over the similarities between that film and Chaplin’s 1936 Modern Times, but the latter’s famous factory scenes borrowed as much from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as from Clair’s film. (Chaplin even cast the factory director to resemble Alfred Abel, who played the Master of Metropolis!) In any event, Chaplin’s swan song to the silent comedy is less a social/political story than simply a series of episodes in which the Little Tramp and his barefoot new companion (Paulette Goddard, his real-life squeeze at the time) try to get by during the Great Depression, with the Tramp’s haplessness usually getting in the way. As a comedy, it doesn’t match The Gold Rush or City Lights, but its mix of light, dark, and sentimentality render it timeless.

The 1.33:1 black-and-white picture on Blu-ray is fi ne, just a tad grainy, with lovely contrast and detail. The uncompressed PCM mono music-and-effects track is clearly and faithfully reproduced (including the nonsense song, the only time the Tramp “speaks”).

As usual, Criterion has gone overboard with its extras — somewhat literally with All at Sea, a recently discovered 1933 home movie that the young Alistair Cooke made of a boat trip he took with Chaplin and Goddard to Catalina Island. A commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson is loaded with information, mostly about the film and mostly relevant. In addition to many interesting segments on the movie’s creation (and arguably less interesting ones on its enduring influence), there’s The Rink, a Chaplin two-reeler from 1916, bits of which were recycled for Modern Times.