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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In reaction to the dullness of the films of actual combat in that time,
the wartime public increasingly turned to humor as escape from monotony
Charlie Chaplin feared that his great "Shoulder Arms" would offend people, but it became his greatest hit In it, Charlie, by luck, courage, and devilish ingenuity wins the war singlehanded and brings a captive Kaiser in triumph to London
The chief difference between this hilarious burlesque and some of the serious war dramas was that in Charlie's case it all turned out to be a dream
Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp or Little Man character wins World War
I, called The Great War at the time, single handedly, even capturing
the Kaiser, something the entire Allied armed forces were unable to do.
Too bad it all turns out to be a dream, which is somewhat of a cop out
and the weakest part of this mesmerizing silent short (almost a feature
film at 46 minutes).
There are inventive gags galore including Charlie having to put on a gas mask to eat Limburger cheese sent from home, then using the cheese as a weapon against the Germans; Charlie sleeping underwater in a flooded trench next to a soldier he continues to annoy; Charlie disguising himself as a tree--one of his best sketches ever--and Charlie pretending to beat up his friend who has become a POW, then hugging him when the enemy is out of sight.
One amazing feature is how much Charlie, when he is behind enemy lines dressed as a German, resembles Hitler over ten years before Hitler and his Nazi thugs rose to dominate German politics. Obviously Hitler patterned his appearance after Charlie's from this film.
In these modern times (as subject known quite well to the director of
the short film that this German count is going to talk about
politically correct films are the "leitmotiv" of the modern young
filmmakers' projects. "Shoulder Arms" directed by Herr Charlie Chaplin
during WWI (the film was released only a few weeks before the
armistice) is an obvious example of why the early cinema pioneers were
a very bold people, certainly! To direct a humorous film inspired in
the terrible, bloody First World War was a complicated matter that only
few directors with those dangerous and daring ideas could be allowed to
to venture upon such delicate enterprise and with success was
reserved only to geniuses.
As this German count said, "Shoulder Arms" was made during WWI, that time in where definitely the whole world lost its innocence (fortunately not the German fat heiresses of this aristocrat ) and it is a hilarious, inventive social satire about that and any war. The film it is full of great gags and entertaining film continuity for a story in where that tramp will live though risky and courageous adventures in the front whether a hero for the allies or not.
To mock the war trenches, the unhealthiness, the frontal attacks and the Germans (how you dare!!... by the way, there are a lot of inaccuracies in the film the German soldiers by that time had moustaches and longer beards not to mention that the Kaiser lacks many medals in his uniform ) in an elegant, funny and delicate way it is even today a film miracle impossible of being surpassed. Keeping in mind those terrible wartime circumstances, the difficult task is only possible thanks to a lot of creativity and talent. Obviously Herr Charlie Chaplin had very much of it.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must go back to the Schloss trenches.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
The big names in cinema tried to do their part for the war effort, and
Charlie Chaplin was no exception. This patriotic and propagandist
picture, "Shoulder Arms", is part of his contribution, although the war
was nearly over by the time of its release. The tramp goes to war,
humorously accomplishes acts of heroism and kicks the Kaiser in the
bum. It's a very funny film, although I don't think it nearly one of
his best. It's with "A Dog's Life" as his better output for First
National before he made his early masterpiece "The Kid". They were his
first three-reelers, which contain sustained, more elaborate gags than
he could usually orchestrate in his two-reel shorts at Mutual.
It can be difficult to balance a pro-war message with slapstick antics and scenes of burlesque on the front, but one wouldn't think so watching "Shoulder Arms". It's also preferable in many respects to a "more serious", dramatic work with a similar message, such as Griffith's "Hearts of the World". Chaplin had become a true virtuoso of screen comedy by this time; he makes it look effortless. He knew very well by then that a film with fewer gags--with more elaboration, refinement and careful timing--could be better than any knockabout, Keystone-type farce with a dozen pratfalls a minute. The sequence where Chaplin is disguised as a tree is a pertinent example. Even with wars raging, Chaplin can lift the spirits of millions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
`A Dog's Life' was most noteworthy for its excellent comic timing. In Charlie Chaplin's other movie from 1918, `Shoulder Arms', the silent film genius focuses on an entirely different brand of humor. His war comedy specializes in surreal, exaggerated set pieces in which Chaplin demonstrates unprecedented creativity and mastery of composition. When the soldier's bunker gets flooded, the water level reaches just the right height so that Chaplin can execute his gags most successfully. In a later scene, the soldier dresses up as a tree, a disguise that belies Chaplin's much increased ingenuity and goofiness. Naturally, when the enemy discovers his ruse, the soldier darts straight for the forest. The ensuing chase is a visual marvel: Chaplin not only hides the soldier from the Germans, but he uses the forest to mask the soldier from the audience, as well, such that the camouflaged soldier stands unblocked in the middle of the frame yet somehow remains invisible. All the while we thought our little hero was pulling a fast one on the German army; to our delight, the joke is on us, too.
In one of the best of Charlie Chaplin's lengthier short films, he
places the Little Fellow in the trenches of WWI, where he brings his
intolerable politeness and endless patience to the drudgery of trench
life, where troops lived for months at a time before finally going over
the top to overtake the enemy, and usually to their deaths. It takes
someone of Chaplin's skill as a comedian to make something as dreary as
trench warfare into such a brilliant comedy, but the irony that he uses
in the film makes even the most uncomfortable conditions highly
Like all of the best of Chaplin's films, short films and otherwise, this one is packed with brilliant and memorable scenes, such as the scene where he marks off kills with a piece of chalk on a board in the trench, erasing one when he gets his helmet shot off, the scene where he and his fellow soldiers are sleeping underwater, the opening of the beer bottle and lighting of the cigarette, and of course, the overtaking of the enemy. All of these scenes are show-stoppers, reminiscent of the most wonderful Chaplin scenes. This one should not be missed!
One of the prices of superstardom is that you have to become adaptable.
When the US joined the World War in 1917 Charlie Chaplin was at the
height of his popularity. Naturally, he was expected to make some sort
of contribution. Chaplin had already set his short films in all sorts
of locations, even at different time periods, and had given his little
tramp all manner of occupations, so soldiering in the trenches
shouldn't have been too big a step. However, Shoulder Arms is, if not a
propaganda piece (it was released a bit late for that), at least one
that had to have a certain outlook. As a result Chaplin was constrained
somewhat, and it shows.
The first half of the picture, which is set during Charlie's training and among his comrades in the trench seems a little muted compared to other Chaplin pictures of this period. The reason for this is clear it wouldn't have had the right effect if there were seen to be too much antagonism between soldiers. Characters like the burly drill sergeant or Charlie's buddy (played his brother Syd) would make ideal bugbears in any other picture, but here all we get is a bit of appropriately brotherly tussling between Charlie and Syd. When you see how weak these opening ten minutes are you realise how much of Chaplin's comedy depended upon playing off others and pricking pomposity.
Fortunately, Chaplin gets to make up for all this when his little tramp goes out to face the German foe. Here he can go all out with making his enemies look ridiculous, getting the most out of his varyingly-sized supporting players. We have Henry Bergman as a roly-poly German, Albert Austin as a gangly one, and best of all Loyal Underwood as a short but self-important German officer. This is Underwood's finest moment, and he really puts a lot of energy and spirit into the part. And Chaplin gets to set up some great routines, with some ingenious ways of defeating foes, not to mention one of his best ever entrances when he appears out of the landscape in his tree disguise.
And Chaplin was clearly savvy enough to realise that the beginning of the picture contained some fairly poor material. Consequently he edits in a handful of shots of antics in the German trench (with Underwood at his most animated), which serve as nothing more than a little touch of uproar, and a promise of things to come.
And now we must have that all-important statistic Number of kicks up the arse: 7 (1 for, 0 against, 6 other)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film as it is now is far shorter than it was when released in
1918. In fact, it is now more available with two other medium sized
silent Chaplin features (A DOG'S LIFE, and THE PILGRIM) that Chaplin
re-released in the 1950s. In it's day SHOULDER ARMS was a big hit
because of it's humor in uniform approach. It still is very funny
(Chaplin in disguise as a tree, spying on the Germans, is so ridiculous
it's hysterical), but it suffers from being set in it's own age.
Charlie's dealing with World War I, a hideous conflict that killed 20
million people, but not the worst war (horrible to say) of the 20th
Century. Chaplin would live to see that war too, and would spoof it's
main architects in THE GREAT DICTATOR. But the latter is more
accessible to modern audiences because that movie is a talking picture.
Also, Hitler as a target seems more important to audiences in 2008 than
Kaiser Wilhelm II and his general staff.
SHOULDER ARMS was to take us through the drafting of the tramp, his training, his getting use to trench warfare, and his actual fighting against the "Huns" on the Western Front. Much of this is now gone - one segment (when Albert Austin is a Doctor examining Chaplin in his office at the draft center) is still in existence and was shown completely in the documentary UNKNOWN CHAPLIN. This is unfortunate, because the film is now roughly forty five minutes long, and there seems to be gaps that these scenes filled out. What remains is first rate but one leaves wanting more...and feeling a trifle cheated.
Sydney Chaplin and Henry Bergman do well in supporting parts, especially Sydney as Wilhelm. He had done it before in a short with Charlie for the sale of bonds, giving a militaristic speech before being clobbered by the tramp with a huge hammer labeled "War Bonds"). Here we see the tramp succeed in capturing Wilhelm and the general staff at the conclusion. It was only topped by Stan and Ollie capturing the German army with a tank and barbed wire in PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES.
The funny thing is that Chaplin actually had a major crisis as a result of his wartime activities. He was not a naturalized American - not in 1917 or in 1952, when Attorney General McGranery publicly announced that Chaplin could not return to the U.S. because he was an enemy alien (Chaplin and his family were in Europe on a trip - in anger Charlie settled in Switzerland for the rest of his life, except when he made A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG and when he went to Hollywood for his special career "Oscar" in the 1970s). Because he was not an American he could not be drafted by the U.S. So he sold (with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Mary Pickford) U. S. War Bonds. But in Great Britain tens of thousands had perished in World War One battlefields, and the public there was upset at Chaplin, who they considered a "slacker" and a coward. Chaplin eventually did overcome this, but remnants of the resentment followed him until he died. This does not detract from the success of SHOULDER ARMS as a film, but it does suggest why Chaplin did not do another modern war film until 1940, and a worthier target.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the funniest and most daring movies of its time. For a short film, it rivals most if not all the feature films shot that year. For a comedy on World War 1, during the war, is not only daring by genius. Chaplin's original humor and art of storytelling proved to young Hollywood that he was the greatest comedian, showman, and film maker that the world had to offer. The story of the common allied solider, living in the trenches of World War 1, under savage conditions with comic relief is terrific. Chaplin captured both the real horrors of the living conditions and made the audience laugh at the same time. The camera work for 1918 is also surprising. The use of montage and double framed shots was beyond 1918, but Chaplin did it. The spoiler of having the movie be the Tramp's dream is also unique for the time. Chaplin re-discovered film making and produced one of the all time greatest comedy shorts of the 20th Century with Shoulder Arms.
One of Charlie Chaplin's very best shorter features, "Shoulder Arms" is
a wonderful combination of comedy, commentary, and adventure. Charlie
plays a soldier who heads off to World War I, and in the course of 40
minutes or so, it provides a light-hearted but in many respects
believable portrayal of what life was like in the trenches. The story
also combines some fine slapstick with some exciting adventures.
In this movie, Chaplin hits the perfect balance between humor and substance, helping us to sympathize with those who bore the burdens of the war, without ever becoming sentimental. The other characters are nicely conceived and acted, with the engaging Edna Purviance, the versatile Syd Chaplin, and other talented supporting players pitching in.
The story has many creative turns, plus a couple of good surprises. It's great entertainment, and thoughtful as well. Make sure to take a look if you enjoy Chaplin or silent comedies in general.
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