'Modern Times': silent hoot

The Baltimore Sun

Anyone who thinks of a silent film as something to be endured, not enjoyed, has never seen a film by the great Charlie Chaplin. To see what I mean, check out 1936's Modern Times (8 p.m., TCM), Chaplin's last silent and one of the greatest comedies of all time.

Chaplin had been perfecting his Little Tramp character for nearly a quarter-century, and though talking pictures had come in nine years earlier, he saw no reason to add dialogue to his films; his screen persona - an unkempt, ill-clothed little fella who endured every social injustice the world could throw at him, while rarely losing his perspective and never losing his heart - spoke a universal language that had no need for dialogue.

Playing alongside his third wife, the beautiful and enchanting Paulette Goddard (look up the word "gamin" in the dictionary, and you'll find her picture), Chaplin seeks to make his way in an increasingly impersonal and mechanized world, one with little room for individuality and no room, it seems, for a Tramp like him. Proof of Chaplin's genius abounds throughout the film. Watch what happens when the Tramp tries to get the attention of a truck that lost its red signal flag (and keep in mind how some wags accused Chaplin of being communist). Then marvel as he roller-skates blindfolded in a crowded department store (and try to figure how he did it).

For more comedic genius, stay tuned to TCM for The Big Store (9:30 p.m.). In it, the Marx Brothers try their hand at retailing. Though the movie is far from classic Marx, no excuse to watch Groucho, Harpo and Chico lay waste to decorum and civility should be dismissed lightly.

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