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Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and MotivationModern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation


Modern Times (1936)


Famous for...

  • Charlie Chaplin –its star, director and writer. It was his last ‘silent’ film (voices, music and sounds are included but not synchronized voice dialogue, as in films today).
  • Its attack on poverty, unemployment and the dehumanization of the factory assembly line. It was inspired by Henry Ford’s (pictured right below) car factory in Detroit. Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation


Set in...

America during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.



Charlie Chaplin.

 Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation




Key characters

The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin),a poor worker with the famous cane, baggy trousers and tight coat (pictured right in another of Chaplin's films,City Lights).

Young girl (Paulette Goddard, Chaplin’s second wife and also the star of his film about Hitler, The Great Dictator).


The storyModern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

Compared to a flock of sheep (pictured right), workers push out of a subway station to get to their work in the Electro Steel Corporation’s factory.

After doing a jig-saw, reading a paper and being served by his secretary, the company’s boss:

  • spies on his workers (via a TV screen).
  • tells their supervisors to make the workers increase production.

One worker is the Tramp whose job is to tighten bolts (with both hands) onto steel plates, brought to him on a conveyor belt assembly line (pictured right below).

His supervisor:Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

  • bullies him.
  • continually urges him to keep up with the speed of the conveyor belt.

When he itches, gestures, or brushes away a troublesome fly, he:

  • causes tremendous chaos further down the production line.
  • frantically tries to catch up.

Whilst sneaking a cigarette in the toilet, he is spied on by the boss on his TV screen who tells him to go back to work.

During lunch the Tramp automatically starts his bolt tightening movements, which:

  • tighten buttons on a lady’s bottom.
  • spill someone’s soup. Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

In his office the boss is shown a mechanical feeding machine for workers to eliminate the lunch hour and so increase production (pictured right). The Tramp is chosen to try out the new machine, but it’s useless, going haywire and making the food inedible.

He goes back to work and the line is put on top speed.

The Tramp:

  • is driven insane by the strain.
  • manically tightens everything in sight (including people’s noses)
  • dances a mad ballet.
  • explodes some factory equipment.
  • sprays everyone with oil.
  • is sent to a psychiatric ward (after chasing two women to tighten their buttons).

He leaves the hospital, recovered from his nervous breakdown but jobless. Like lots of others, he can’t get a job because of the Great Depression.Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

He is arrested by the police who mistake him for a communist, when he waves a red warning flag in the street.

Meanwhile a poor motherless young girl  steals a case of bananas from a ship (pictured right), sharing them with:

  • other children.
  • her unemployed father.
  • her younger sisters.

In prison the Tramp (bolstered by some cocaine accidentally eaten with his lunch) stops a jailbreak which leads to his release.

The young girl’s sisters are taken away into care, when her father is killed in a riot by the unemployed. But she escapes, and the Tramp sinks a half-finished ship in a brief shipbuilding job.Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

The girl (pictured right) is arrested after stealing some bread (despite the Tramp trying to take the blame for it) . He is arrested, too, when he can’t pay for a meal.


  • meet in a police van going to jail.
  • escape and dream of living in a home like the nice suburban house they see.

The Tramp is inspired to make this dream come true.


  • gets a job as a night watchman in a department store (where the girl eats and sleeps). Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation
  • (after roller skating with her in the toy department) stumbles upon a gang of burglars (including an unemployed old work colleague from the steel company).
  • gives them food (after they say that their hunger is the only reason for the burglary).
  • is put in jail again.

On his release, the overjoyed girl tells him that she has found a home for them. Even though it’s a lakeside delapidated shack, they are thrilled with it, because it's their first home (pictured right above).

He gets a factory job as assistant to a machinery mechanic who gets caught in the cogs of a huge machine . After feeding him lunch,  the Tramp loses his job, when the workers go on strike.

He is again put in jail, when he accidentally hits a policeman.

Meanwhile the girl:Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

  • is hired as a singing waitress in a café.
  • persuades the owner to give the Tramp a waiter’s job on his release from jail.

He is a disaster as a waiter but very successful as a singer. He then escapes with the girl when child care officials try to take her.

They are finally seen walking optimistically into the sunrise arm in arm (pictured right).


Lessons for management, motivation and mass production


1. Mass production murders minds Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

The assembly line turns the Tramp into a dehumanized, automated machine.

He gets a nervous breakdown from the:

  • stress of keeping pace with the line.
  • monotonous repetition of his job (over which he has no control).


2. Control is costly

Chaplin used the term “Big Brother” (13 years before George Orwell, pictured right below, did in his book, 1984) to describe how the boss spies on his workers to make sure they: Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

  • work faster.
  • don’t waste time (even in the toilet!).

This close supervision destroys workers’:

  • dignity.
  • mental health.
  • job satisfaction.
  • freedom to think for themselves.

So they go on strike or (like the Tramp) leave.

 Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation  

3. Follow your dreams

The Tramp is determined to work hard, so that he and the girl can have a better life.


4. The human spirit has huge potential

The Tramp and the girl overcome all their difficulties (ill health, poverty, unemployment and her dead parents) to face the future with: Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

  • optimism.
  • love.
  • determination.

At the end of the film, the girl is at the point of giving up, when the Tramp tells her:

“Buck up - never say die. We’ll get along!”


  Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

5. Injustice infuriates

In his plush office, the boss reads comic strips, while his workers slave away on the assembly line, bullied by their supervisors.

The workers’ unjust and bad treatment leads to the strike which the police wrongly believe is caused by communist agitators.


6. Co-operation is crucial Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

Workers on an assembly line must work well together, because a mistake by one person leads to problems for people further down the line (as the Tramp shows).


7. Machinery isn’t always marvellous

The mechanical feeding machine for workers:

  • is a disaster.
  • shows how exploited they are.

The mechanic gets trapped in the cogs of a huge machine, symbolizing the potential threat of technology.

  Modern Times - Management, Mass Production and Motivation

8. Kindness is cool

The girl and the Tramp help each other, and he gives food to the burglars in the department store.


 Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

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