October 27, 2010 at 9:23 am (By Pat)

Does this Charlie Chaplin movie show a time-traveller talking on a cell phone?


I apologize in advance for posting this after yesterday’s comment thread. I just can’t resist. I’m part Irish, you know, and can’t resist a little mischief from time to time.


  1. Randy said,

    Enjoy yourself! ;-)

  2. Robert said,

  3. amba12 said,

    Robert, you are awesome!!

    BUT — would a person using that contraption be holding it near her ear? More to the point, would she be talking into it? Was it two-way?

  4. Robert said,

    Yes, they would hold it to their ear. It didn’t have earphones, but rather a big paper speaker that you held up to your ear. (The circular bit at the top end of the device.) Then you’d hold the microphone out on its cord towards whatever you wanted to hear.

    I don’t see the corded microphone in the movie but it was very small. As for why she’s talking – I don’t know. It wasn’t a radio, just an amplification device. Maybe she just got the thing and was excited to be able to hear her own voice.

    I AM awesome, but I didn’t find this, someone else did. I just googled for discussion of the topic after I saw your vid.

    I wish it WAS a time traveller, though.

  5. Robert said,

    Hmm, actually I was wrong about the earpiece – there IS an earpiece on this model. So she would not have necessarily had to hold it to her ear to make it work.

    Still seems a more likely explanation.

  6. pathmv said,

    My granny, God rest her, used to hold on to all sorts of contraptions that didn’t actually need holding onto. With the types of earpieces they had back then (as illustrated in Robert’s photo link), I could easily see it not fitting well, leading the user to keep a hand next to his or her ear at all times.

    FYI, I should have provided a hat tip to Jonah Goldberg at NRO’s The Corner. More discussion in the comments there.

  7. Icepick said,

    The time traveller (TT), realising she had been caught on film with a cell phone (alternately with some other wonder gizmo (WG)), travelled to an earlier point in time to spur the creation of a hearing aid of similar design to her WG. Thus she creates a plausible alternative explanation.

    It’s very hard to catch these folks in action.

    Of course, the real question is why didn’t she have a blue tooth?

  8. Peter Hoh said,

    Looks like Scotty, from Star Trek.

  9. Peter Hoh said,

    Seriously, though, I’m pretty sure the body of the Western Electric audiophone was worn inside a shirt pocket, not held up to the ear.

  10. Ron said,

    Even without Robert’s Awesome Discovery (hmmm…your new Ben & Jerry’s flavor?) there are so many more prosaic explanations than “time traveller” that I actually believe this guy is clueless enough to be a filmmaker. As kids we used to play “cell phone” — or to be more accurate “walkie talkie” — with whatever was handy, and I’m sure some of those things (blocks? small bricks?) could pass, at a distance for a modern phone.

    “small square magic box I can talk into” — probably not that wild enough an idea for 1928. Maybe this Broderick Crawford looking woman was crazy! We have no idea, but geez, go to impulse power on all the “time traveller” blather.

  11. Robert said,

    That may have been its design; I honestly don’t know. She may have been using it wrong. It matches the object half-seen in the (rather fuzzy) video, and these devices were in use three years or so before the film was shot.

    That is pretty much enough to kill the time-travel theory as a scientific hypothesis, at least until further substantive evidence is adduced. With no extraneous technology visible or implied in the video, there’s no inexplicable mystery vast enough to require the invocation of time travel as a causal factor. Sigh. /skeptic

    Which is not to say that mysteries do not remain. Why WAS she holding it to her ear? And so forth.

    It is also entirely possible that we have totally misidentified the object. It could be a small black hand purse that she was holding up to block her face from the camera. Many people have referred to has an extra but my understanding is that she was just a random passer-by – they set up the cameras and let ’em roll, come who may. I could be wrong about any of that, of course.

  12. pathmv said,

    Hey, you’ve got to admit this George Clarke guy’s a brilliant marketer. Look how many people he’s gotten talking about this clip, and watching a video which has a BIG poster in the background for one of his company’s movies.

  13. Ron said,

    Good Meme Management Call Pat!

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