‘Modern Times’

Charlie Chaplin’s last official ‘silent’ film, Modern Times is a comic but scabrous commentary on profiteering, industrialisation and changing society and values.

A film confined to sound affects, Chaplin finds himself on a production line desperately attempting to stay on-speed with the repetition of the work. Losing that job he is arrested and imprisoned as the leader of a trade union demonstration: released he finds himself, through the support of a homeless waif (Paulette Goddard), a singing waiter – even though he cannot sing.

It’s all a little crazy and somewhat anarchic – standard fare for Chaplin in the 1920s and 30s as his Depression-era farces are essentially played for laughs – but with an underlying humanity. Modern Times is cunning and biting slapstick with some inspired comedy moments, but its sentimentality and lack of depth results in a somewhat over-egged pudding that outstays its welcome.

Rating: 50%

‘The Circus’

A delightful, full-length, silent, black and white feature from Charlie Chaplin – the master of non-verbal slapstick communication and entertainment.

As The Tramp, Chaplin is mistakenly believed to be a pickpocket. Chased into the ring of an ailing circus, the antics of clown and police bring the house down. A job is reluctantly offered and romance follows (Merna Kennedy).

But with most Chaplin silent films, short or feature length, it’s not the narrative so much the excuse for a series of hilarious antics. Whilst being chased, the hall of mirrors and disappearing person magic trick scenes are true landmarks of slapstick. The Circus is Chaplin through and through – he stars, directs, produces and even sings the title song!

Presented with a special Oscar at the first ever ceremony in 1929 for versatility and genius in acting, writing and producing.

Rating: 80%

‘The General’ (1926)

One of the great silent comedies (and one of the most expensive), Buster Keaton as writer, director, stuntman and star comes to grips with the hijacking of his train during the American Civil War.

A spectacle involving up to three speeding locomotives, extraordinary stunts, explosions, burning bridges, slapstick comedy, sight gags, Keaton looks to save the woman he loves (Marion Mack – Mary of the Movies), who finds herself hostage on the train.

Rejected by the Conferderates on the outbreak of the war – as an engineer for the Western & Atlantic Railroad, he is more valuable where he is than in uniform – Keaton sets out to prove he is no coward. Based on a real-life Civil War era story of The General, a steam locomotive, the engineer spoils the Union Army’s plans to mount a surprise attack – and win the heart of the woman he loves.

Like the best silent films, the lack of dialogue is almost irrelevant. The General is a goodly mix of comedy, drama, thrills and adventure – all delivered at breakneck speed.

Rating: 77%