Saturday, April 10, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: Chaplin & Goddard walk the walk

By Steve Crum

RELEASED IN 1936, CHARLIE CHAPLIN'S MODERN TIMES was one of the few comedies to thematically deal with the ongoing Great Depression. Laden with socio-political references to assembly line industry, anarchy, unionism (or lack thereof), homelessness, love, and even drugs (the white powder being consumed in the prison sequence ain't supposed to be C&H sugar), Modern Times was controversial, bittersweet, knee slap hilarious, heartbreaking, incisive, and...well...Chaplin. The film was released nearly 10 years after sound came to motion pictures, yet director, writer, composer, star Chaplin made this one mostly silent, except for recorded music and sound effects. There is sparse dialogue, but at least movie audiences got to hear Chaplin's voice as he briefly sang.

CHARLIE CHAPLIN, born Charles Spencer Chaplin (April 16, 1889-Dec. 25, 1977), filmed Modern Times over a two year period, 1934-35, perfecting as he went. He collaborated with composer David Raksin on the score, since Chaplin could not read music. The hit song Smile was a later result.

PAULETTE GODDARD, born Marion Pauline Levy (June 3, 1919-April 23, 1980), was fine and gorgeous support for Chaplin's Tramp character, playing the gamine, Ellen Peterson. A serious relationship between the two actors developed, and they were married in 1936. (The union lasted until 1942.)
The vintage, original United Artists Studio promo photo above shows Modern Times' iconic finale as Chaplin and Goddard's characters walk hand in hand towards their uncertain, hopeful future down the long, winding road. The symbolism is Chaplin through and through, beautifully realized by his long time cinematographer Rollie Totheroh. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
Hear Chaplin sing his song; see him hit the road in Modern Times:

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