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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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The Kid

Wowza!

The Kid (1921)

     I find it difficult to think of Charlie Chaplin as anything but a comedic actor, but one of his most notable films is in essence a drama. The Kid was the silent star’s first feature-length picture at one-hour in length. Associated First National Pictures was reluctant to let the moneymaker do a longer movie because it was making so much revenue off his quick-to-produce short subjects. The Kid proved highly successful, however, with Chaplin as writer, director, producer, star and score composer.

     An unwed mother (Edna Purviance) who is unable to care for her child leaves him in a car outside a mansion but is unaware a couple of hoodlums take off with the vehicle. When the men discover the screaming child in the back seat they leave him in a dingy alley where our hero, the Tramp (Chaplin), finds him. He initially tries to get rid of the baby, but ends up taking him home.

     Five years later the Tramp and the Kid (Jackie Coogan) have a great relationship working as scam artists. The Kid throws rocks to break windows, and the Tramp arrives just in time to offer the installation of new glass. They live in a run-down apartment in a run-down part of town but are obviously happy together. The Tramp turns out to be a fantastic caregiver who has not only educated his child to act as housekeeper and cook, but grooms the child somewhat like apes do.

     The mother has in the interim become a famous actress with plenty of money. She regrets abandoning her child and gives away toys to poor children in the Kid’s neighborhood, including to the Kid himself. When the boy becomes ill, the mother comes around to check on him and becomes involved in welfare services’ fight to put the boy in an orphanage. During her time in the Tramp’s home, she finds the note she left on her baby and makes the connection. She offers a reward for the boy’s recovery, and he is eventually taken from the Tramp and delivered to her. In the end, however, the woman adopts the Tramp as well.

     The Kid is marked by a variety of adventures shared by the Tramp and the Kid. The two are so in sync that despite their down-trodden lifestyle, we can see no better parent for the boy. Coogan dresses like his father figure with oversized, ragged pants and suspenders. The child actor really outshines Chaplin in many regards as his performance is so mature for his character. The actor was seven years old at the time of the film’s release, which makes his acting all the more impressive.

     Although The Kid is full of humorous moments, what will strike audience members the most are the dramatic efforts of the actors. Chaplin is admirable in the unlikely role of father and makes us feel the devotion with which he looks after his adopted son.

  • The Kid is set for 6:30 a.m. ET April 16 on TCM.

Source: Robert Osborne

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