Blu-ray Review: Modern Times

The Tramp rising on gearwheels

While he had stiff competition from Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, there’s no doubt that Charlie Chaplin was the king of American silent cinema. While they were all brilliant physical comedians, the Londoner had the advantage of having the ‘little tramp’ up his sleeve. His much-loved creation is undoubtedly the iconic face of the era. The good-natured bumbler became a huge hit with audiences and was probably at his peak in Modern Times.

Set during the Great Depression, the Tramp (Chaplin) is working on an assembly line in a factory. After the management introduce increasingly intensive working practices, he has a nervous breakdown. Now unemployed, he accidentally ends up in prison. Somehow contriving to become a hero and is unhappy when he’s released. On the outside, he encounters an orphaned girl (Paulette Goddard) on the run from the police and decides to help her.  

Modern Times is Chaplin at his most inventive and ingenious. He tackles the perils of industrialisation and modernisation from the perspective of the everyman. The set-pieces play on the idea of mechanisation and technological advances, as well as reflecting the huge socio-economic problems of the time in America. Most of all though, Modern Times is hilarious throughout. Approaching its subject in a number of comedic and heart-warming angles.


  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New audio commentary by Chaplin biographer David Robinson
  • Two new visual essays, by Chaplin historians John Bengtson and Jeffrey Vance
  • New program on the film’s visual and sound effects, with experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
  • Interview from 1992 with Modern Times music arranger David Raksin
  • Chaplin Today: “Modern Times” (2004), a half-hour program with filmmakers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne
  • Two segments removed from the film
  • Three theatrical trailers
  • All at Sea (1933), a home movie by Alistair Cooke featuring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, and Cooke, plus a new score by Donald Sosin and a new interview with Cooke’s daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge
  • The Rink (1916), a Chaplin two-reeler highlighting his skill on wheels
  • For the First Time (1967), a Cuban documentary short about a projectionist who shows Modern Times to firsttime moviegoers
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Saul Austerlitz and a piece by film scholar Lisa Stein that includes excerpts from Chaplin’s writing about his travels in 1931 and 1932

Modern Times is released on Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in the UK on 14 March.

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