Shoulder Arms

Ring a Ding Ding

Shoulder Arms (1918)

The Little Tramp has never looked so well kempt as when he is in uniform, but Charlie Chaplin‘s daring war comedy Shoulder Arms risked offending audiences at the time. Ready for release in 1918, World War I was not quite over and Chaplin was advised that audiences might not want to see him make light of the serious subject. Others said Americans needed the pick-me-up, and so Chaplin went through with the scheduled release on Oct. 20 that year. It was very well received.

Forget the usual raggedy slouch pants and scruffy derby hat the Tramp usually wears, Chaplin’s character this time wears slightly oversized uniform pants and a jacket a size too small. His shoes are their usual oversized sort, and the helmet of “Doughboy” is not far from his usual chapeau either.

Shoulder Arms opens on Doughboy in training and having a hard time holding his weapon properly or turning about face. He is often scolded by his superior officer for walking pigeon-toed, which naturally brings all the silliness possible to a march. Going for a nap, Doughboy next takes us to the trenches “over there.” A nice tracking shot follows Chaplin as he strolls obliviously through the trench and back, with explosions happening just behind him all the time –indicated audibly by a slide whistle and drum-cymbal crash.

The troops have a decent underground bunk room where Doughboy sets up his back-scratching cheese grater and finds his feet might be too long for the bed. The bunk room is decent until the rain starts pouring in. By the time Doughboy gets leave to rest, his bed is underwater. This does not phase him as he fluffs his soaked pillow and pulls the submerged blankets over him. His snoring neighbor gets disrupted, however, when Doughboy’s annoyance at the noise results in a wave of water sloshing over the other soldier’s face.

The rest of this 36-minute short includes Doughboy’s leaving the trenches for the field of battle –where he disguises himself as a tree– only to end up finding Edna Purviance’s character and taking refuge in her home. As can be expected of the tramp character, his bumbling ways result in his capturing the top German foe and delivering them to his superiors.

Chaplin is his usual great self, bringing us a character who behaves so nonchalantly while disturbing everything around him. Chaplin often had his Tramp behave in this way where he goes about some unnatural activity with the greatest of ease. In this case it was getting into an underwater bed. In The Kid it was preparing a meal in the manner that poverty dictated he must. These straight-faced scenes offer great amusement in both the well-rehearsed movement of the star as well as the absurdity of the activities. Watch the entire movie here:

Source: Robert Osborne

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One Response

  1. Not familiar with this one!

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