1865: Swiss captain Bluntschli fights as mercenary in the war between Bulgaria and Serbia. When his group's attacked by a few Bulgarian troopers, he learns that he's got the wrong ... See full summary »



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Episode credited cast:
Mark Crowdy ...


1865: Swiss captain Bluntschli fights as mercenary in the war between Bulgaria and Serbia. When his group's attacked by a few Bulgarian troopers, he learns that he's got the wrong ammunition for his cannon and has to flee. His flight leads him right into the bedroom of his enemy's fiancée. Written by Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>

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Plot Keywords:

fictional war | based on play | See All (2) »


Comedy | Drama | Romance





Release Date:

16 April 1989 (UK)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Raina: Some soldiers, I know, are afraid of death.
Bluntschli: All of them, dear lady, all of them, believe me. It is our duty to live as long as we can, and kill as many of the enemy as we can.
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Early Shaw; among his funniest. Solid production just misses full effectiveness
10 December 2006 | by (Jersey City, New Jersey) – See all my reviews

Ironically for a play unavailable on film or video for so long, ARMS AND THE MAN has remained fairly constantly available on stage over the years since its debut in 1894 - in no small part because it has aged so well as a solid satire on the nature of heroism and the business of war. Whenever the world sinks into strife, ARMS AND THE MAN seems to soar as ever more timely and relevant.

This is the play which Oscar Strauss converted (leaving out most of Shaw's best ideas) into the successful operetta, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER (when Hollywood got to *that,* they left out the last vestiges of Shaw rather than pay him for the rights - he was, by then, an Oscar winner in his own right). While the best of Shaw has always been his ideas and his dialogue rather than his bare plots, in ARMS AND THE MAN, the plot sparkles as well and the master manages happy endings for all concerned.

Young Raina (Helena Bonham Carter), daughter of an officer and the wealthiest man in her town, is betrothed to a dashing officer in the Bulgarian cavalry and all seems well until a bedraggled Swiss mercenary (Pip Torrens) from the other side climbs up her drainpipe fleeing from the battle where his army has been routed. As usual in a Shaw satire, nothing is as it first appears and societal conventions are stood on their head in the light of simple - and not so simple reason. There are no "good guys" or "bad guys," just people of a variety of classes getting by on the best of their wits - just like life only better - and naturally with Shaw, the wit is finely honed from all concerned.

The early (1932) motion picture version (from Shaw's own screenplay) of this most traditional and traditionally funny of Shaw's stage satires, and one of his first to make a real hit on this side of the Atlantic, has long been among the missing. Shaw didn't sell the screen-rights to his plays - only licensed them for 5 year periods, and it appeared that with rapidly evolving sound technology making 1932 films look primitive only a few years later, Shaw did not renew the license to show it. Consequently, we're immensely in the BBC's debt for finally putting out their 1987 broadcast version in a DVD box with nine other sparkling plays. (Somewhat sadly, PYGMALION, that many view as Shaw's best, comes off least well on this set in a production with Lynn Redgrave and James Villiers.)

Even paired, as it is on its DVD, with the less impressive one act, A MAN OF DESTINY, ARMS AND THE MAN makes for a real treasure.

Helena Bonham Carter went on, after cutting her teeth on televised roles like this, to a major film career that will bring many viewers to this early role. They should not be disappointed, for Ms. Carter gives a performance in line with the layered innocence audiences have come to expect from her, but under James Cellan Jones' somewhat pedestrian direction (and despite the BBC's uniformly beautiful and well observed physical production), the role's mischievous fire (and her outrage at being underestimated in the last act) is banked at only about 80% of it's potential.

Much the same can be said of the real star of the piece, Pip Torrens, as Bluntschli the "Switzer." It's a fine, appealing performance, but doesn't go for the physical comedy implicit in the early scene where the young soldier can barely stay awake despite his mortal peril.

These reservations notwithstanding, this is a solid production of a wonderful play transferred to the small screen with aplomb. It deserves to be seen widely and, ideally, prompt an even livelier big screen remake with the style and zest of the recent remake of Wilde's AN IDEAL HUSBAND. Virtually *any* ARMS AND THE MAN is to be cherished, and with a lot of luck perhaps we'll even eventually get to see the original 1932 version. 'Till one or the other surfaces, this production will please anyone who loves good Shaw.

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