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SHOULDER ARMS (director/writer: Charles Chaplin; cinematographer: Roland Totheroh; editor: Charles Chaplin; cast: Charles Chaplin (Recruit), Edna Purviance (French Girl), Syd Chaplin (Sergeant/The Kaiser), Jack Wilson (German Crown Prince), Henry Bergman (German Sergeant/von Hindenburg), Tom Wilson (Training Camp Sergeant); Runtime: 36; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Chaplin; Warner Home Video; 1918-silent)
“Charlie gives his version of a recruit’s absurd life.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Charles Chaplin’s (“The Gold Rush”/”The Kid”/”Easy Street”) irreverent but still patriotic silent war spoof three reeler was released while World War I was still in progress in its waning days. The public ate the so-called risky project up, as Chaplin was not certain how the public would take to a war spoof while the war was still being fought. It walks the line between comedy and tragedy in a lightweight way, as it has the Little Tramp as a recruit and then sent to war in the trenches.

Charlie gives his version of a recruit’s absurd life as he plays an American soldier who dreams while in the trenches, somewhere in France, he can win the war single-handedly. The soldier answers mail call, deals with his tough drill sergeant, dines in the trenches, acts bravely over the constant shelling, shares crowded quarters with the sergeant (Syd Chaplin, Charlie’s brother), and handles a bad case of lice. In battle, it shows Charlie as he captures a squad of 13 Germans during trench warfare and later volunteers to go behind enemy lines in a suicide mission. Over there he rescues a French girl (Edna Purviance) from the oafish Germans and, in the film’s most hilarious piece, he “becomes” a tree to avoid the approaching enemy soldiers. There are some laughs, but time has done much to take away the importance of the film that it received upon its release and much of the slapstick gags don’t seem that funny at this time.

It’s Charlie’s second film for First National after leaving Mutual, and it comes before his fifth for First National, The Kid, became recognized as his first masterpiece.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”