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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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Comedies often have the unfortunate reputation of having little real
depth. Arms and the Man, proves that notion to be false. Shaw's play is
full of comedic drama, combining an entertaining plot with true
On one level, Arms and the Man is a successful, and somewhat unique, romantic comedy. The young, melodramatic, and superficial Raina comes from a military family deeply involved in a war; her fiancé and her father are both military officers. She is shocked, one night by the arrival of an enemy soldier. She rescues him, knowing that she'll have to keep the incident a secret from her family forever, and the soldier eventually leaves. Of course, once the war is over, that soldier comes back, forcing each of the primary characters to reevaluate their values and their relationships.
It is quite interesting how Shaw layers meaning within the rather standard comedic plot. Shaw manages to comment on class constructs, on the absurdity of war, and even on the nature of love. And, of course, he does this with the Shavian wit and within a satisfying plot. There is so much here to think about that I think a lot can be missed in a single viewing. Arms and the Man is excellent comedic theater and is definitely one of Shaw's best works.
"Arms and the Man" is both an amusing and thought-provoking movie that retains its relevance even today, more than a century after it was first conceived. Shaw mocks at the popular theories on war and love and combines a military satire with a taunt on love and family structure. The play has flashing wit, buoyant humor and bitter sarcasms. A good example of Shaw's dialog is the statement by Captain Bluntschli to Serguis: "I'm a professional soldier: I fight when I have to, and am very glad to get out of it when I haven't to. You're only an amateur; you think fighting is an amusement". Indeed as a Swiss hotel-keeper's son, Bluntschli had no reason to be involved in war and it is in this absurdity that Shaw questions patriotic sentiments. Shaw explores the whole concept of war and the military from both sides of the struggle and in the end shows that the feelings in both camps are not that different.
The dialog and sarcasm used towards the common notions of life are entangled with a gentle assurance of the movement of the story towards a fairytale ending. The end where all characters are rendered happy and lovers change and love shifts is what underlines the essence of this drama as a comedy. This is a movie that sustains its image of possessing a universal appeal and is still appropriate today when the concepts of war and patriotism and love and marriage have changed dramatically. Shaw's "Arms and the Man" should maintain its relevance as long as there is love and war.
'Arms and the Man' is one of Shaw's funniest plays if handled
correctly, and this production does a good enough job. Helena
Bonham-Carter, pre-film stardom, is Raina, the daughter of a military
family, who has a peacock of a fiancé (Patrick Ryecart), and who
shelters a soldier from the enemy (Pip Torrens) during a raid on the
Full of colour and energy, this production rips along at a good pace, and if Bonham-Carter and Patsy Kensit as the maid are outshone a bit by the rest of the cast, they still hold their ground. Kika Markham and Dinsdale Landen as the parents are delightful, and the whole play is generally a happy one.
With few exceptions, most of George Bernard Shaw's plays have virtually disappeared from the theater these days. Too arch, too talky appears to be the general verdict. This BBC version of one of Shaw's funniest plays doesn't refute that verdict. It is certainly arch and talky, but it is also wonderful. And because of the quality of British theater, it is perfectly cast with actors whom -- with the exception of Helena Bonham Carter -- most of us have probably never heard of. Carter is splendid as the Bulgarian girl who shelters the professional "chocolate soldier" (Pip Torrens) and later falls in love with him. One might quarrel with the especially ridiculous interpretation of Sergius (Patrick Ryecart), the Bulgarian cavalry officer who led the charge into the enemy's lines and succeeded only because the enemy had the wrong ammunition for its machine guns. However, the role invites over-acting and Ryecart was obviously told to over-act. The other players are letter perfect. Carter as the self-dramatizing Bulgarian "aristocrat" and Torrens as the Swiss soldier-of-fortune are at the play's center, of course, and they are wonderful. Yes, "Arms and the Man" comes across as a filmed play. But you're unlikely ever to see a Shaw film that doesn't betray its origin. The plots are generally clever. However, Shaw is all about the dialog. The action is minimal (even in St. Joan) and the sets are immaterial. Enjoy this for what it is.
This could be difficult to for some people to get into, being used to
Hollywood production styles. The directing is uninspired, apparently
simply a filming of the stage set-up, and the audio quality is bad here
and there (the rustling of people's clothes occasionally competes with
their voices, etc.).
My friends and I started watching without knowing what to expect, and the first scene almost put us off. It seemed very stagy and cheesy. Then we picked up on the tone of the content, and really started to enjoy ourselves.
It is very funny, despite some corniness. Definitely give it a chance if you appreciate great dialog. Also, Helena Bonham Carter is adorable, of course.
The movie has very much the feel of a play right from the start - I
think it would make a better play than a movie because the set and
dramatization make a movie version seem a bit too artificial. But,
still, it's carried out fairly well, and the story & especially the
dialogue are interesting. They've taken the dialogue pretty much
exactly as is from the actual play. Perhaps it's a good introduction to
The main character Raina has her head in the clouds & and a flair for the dramatic, and Helena Bonham Carter's acting does a good job here. Her fiancé, Serges, is a bit too cartoonish when he is really supposed to be an extremely handsome dashing figure. Her parents are entertaining enough.
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