Happiness doesn’t last, however, and before long the two vagabonds are forced back onto the open road for one of cinema’s most beautifully wistful exits. Despairing alongside a country road, the gamin (Paulette Goddard) sobs, ‘What’s the use of trying?’ The Tramp — once again the scruffy no-surrender optimist the world had watched for an entire generation — urges her to ‘Buck up. Never say die. We’ll get along!’ Then he reminds her how to put a smile on her face. She agrees, and the spark returns to her eyes.
In Chaplin’s best-remembered fade-out, the two tramps set off hand in hand down the dusty road toward a mountainous horizon, silhouetted against a welcoming sunrise. Two survivors, resolute and no longer alone, with the totality of their worldly possessions tied up in kerchief bundles, walk away toward an unknown, but also unprescribed, future.
If you don’t think that last scene is a lump-in-the-throater, there’s no hope for you.
-excerpted from Mark Bourne’s Modern Times: The Chaplin Collection
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