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Modern Times

Modern Times(1936)

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An interview with Charles Chaplin in Film Pictorial on December 22, 1934 states that Chaplin expected to finish the film some time in January 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 Daily Variety news item on June 19, 1935, portions of this film were shot on location in San Pedro, CA. A October 22, 1934 Hollywood Reporter 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-July 1935, when Modern Times was announced as its title. As reported in Daily Variety on July 23, 1935, reorganization at United Artists slowed up the picture considerably, and the studio was inactive for most of Jul. On August 3, 1935, Hollywood Reporter 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 November 23, 1935 announced that the film was finally "in the can." The New York premiere, originally scheduled for January 16, 1936, was postponed because Chaplin said the film was not ready. According to an interview in New York Times on February 2, 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 New York Times article also states that the film had a minor setback in January 1936 when Joseph I. Breen of the Hays Office ordered six sequences deleted because of vulgarity. A memo dated January 6, 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 January 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 Daily Variety 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.
       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 Hollywood Reporter on March 10, 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 April 7, 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 Hollywood Reporter on April 23, 1937, Film Sonores Tobis of France filed a suit against Chaplin, claiming he borrowed heavily from the Ren Clair directed film nous la libert, to which Tobis owned the rights. According to a memo dated May 25, 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, states that she was an extra in this, her first, film. In autobiographical writings, Oscar Levant states 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.