Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Modern Times (1936)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Meanwhile, one week later, the gamin dances joyfully on the street outside the Red Moon Cafe known for having singing waiters. In her impromptu audition, she is recognized by the owner: "She'd be good for the cafe." She is offered a job dancing in the little cabaret - in a quick dissolve, she is transformed from a rag-wearing gamin to a fancy-costumed cafe dancer. Upon his release from jail one week later, a transformed gamin awaits and hugs him cheerfully and he immediately notices the changes in her appearance. She tells him that she has obtained a job for him. In the cafe, she assures the management that he would be a good employee. The owner asks: "Can you wait on table?" and "Can you sing?" She answers for the Tramp, promising that he can. The owner agrees to offer a trial job: "All right. I'll give you a trial."

But juvenile authorities have other ideas. Because she has escaped from juvenile officers, the County Juvenile Division issues a WANTED for vagrancy notice for the gamin.

In the classic restaurant sequence, while waiting on the customers that night, his leg is caught up a dog leash while carrying a loaded tray. In the kitchen, he drills holes in a big block of cheese to make swiss cheese. An irate customer complains about the service: "I've been waiting an hour for roast duck." The maitre d' reprimands the Tramp for his deficient waiting on tables. Upset, the inexperienced Tramp enters the OUT door of the kitchen instead of the IN door, knocking over a co-worker carrying a huge tray. While delivering a large tray of roast duck held high in the air, he is swept away by a crowd of dancers. The roast duck gets stuck in the chandelier, is finally retrieved and brought to the customer's table, but then becomes a rugby football in a game with drunken guests.

The owner realizes he has failed as a waiter, but gives him one last chance: "I hope you can sing." His appearance is preceded by that of four singing waiters. The gamin assists him in preparation - "Let's rehearse your song," she tells him. After a few false practice trials, he realizes: "I forget the words." So she suggests scribbling the words down on one of his loose cuffs so he can remember them.

a pretty girl and a gay old man
flirted on the boulevard
he was a fat old thing
but his diamond ring
caught her eye as...

The practice goes perfectly, and he confidently strolls out to the center of the cafe floor for his premiere as a singing waiter. A dramatic introductory dance and gesture with his arms sends both cuffs flying. So he must stall, and stall, and then improvise. From the dressing room door, the gamin shouts: "Sing!! Never mind the words." He makes up nonsense gibberish full of foreign-sounding phrases in a double-talk song rendition to the tune of Titana, the Cuff Song. (This was the first - and last time - the Tramp's voice was ever heard in a film - and it clearly makes the Tramp's point that words aren't as important as actions.)

...La spinach or la busho, Cigaretto toto bello, Ce rakish spagoletto, Ce le tu la tu la trois! Senora fila scena, voulez-vous la taximeter, Le jaunta sur la seata, Je le tu le tu le waaah!...

His future as a singing waiter seems bright, and he is brought out for an encore. The owner is pleased: "You're great! I'll give you a steady job." But his triumph is brief. Orphanage/juvenile officials show up in the club to take the gamin away as an escaped vagrant. The Tramp grabs her and they run away, tossing chairs into the path of their pursuers. The two of them successfully escape.

The film ends with a classic set of sequences. At dawn the next day, they are sitting at the side of a country road - away from the city's overpowering technology. He is fanning his bare feet before putting on his shoes. She has all her worldly possessions in a tied-up ball. She cries and complains to him:

Gamin: What's the use of trying?
The Tramp: Buck up - never say die. We'll get along!

He encourages her to have fortitude and shows her how to put a smile on her face. [Note: Via lip-reading, the Tramp's final words are deciphered to be: "Smile! C'mon!"]

In the final, most memorable image, they are seen optimistically walking arm in arm into the sunrise before a hilly horizon, and in a sense are escaping from the hustle-bustle of the city and walking back into the US' simple pastoral past. Rather than departing alone (as in so many other, ever-optimistic walks by the Tramp in farewell scenes), he is silhouetted with his love against the background, walking down the dusty road toward the future for the last time.

Previous Page