“Peace on Earth- Goodwill to mankind”
Charlie Chaplin was and will always be a master of taking current events or social issues and giving them heart and hilarity. In his short film Shoulder Arms he has his Tramp character off to the trenches of World War I in France.
The Tramp is part of the “awkward squad”, basically the squad that has the odd balls. The head of the squad keeps having to tell The Tramp to put his feet together when he walks but when The Tramp puts his feet together he cannot walk correctly.
His squad is brought to the trenches. Bombs and debris fly all around the trench and The Tramp just stands around as if nothing is happening. As he keeps watch one night in the pouring rain he thinks about being back home and going to his favorite bar for a drink. As he is waiting the mail comes. At first there seems to be nothing for him and then someone comes back with a package for him. It is a package of Limburger cheese which is so smelly he has to put a gas mask on. When The Tramp’s watch is over he returns to his room that he shares with four other soldiers. The rain has completely flooded the room. He ingeniously takes the horn from the Victrola and lays down under the water.
The following day the squad is sent over the top. The Tramp’s ID is number thirteen. He flips a coin to see if he will be lucky. The look on his face tells us he may not be. Fortunately the squad has great luck and captures some of the bad guys. Back at his trench The Tramp is shooting at the enemy. After he shoots he marks off how many soldiers he has shot.
The squad leader asks the men if any one of them would like to volunteer to do something. The Tramp enthusiastically volunteers. His mission is to stand out in the middle of enemy territory as a tree and spy on the enemy if they come along. The Tramp gives up his cover not by choice, he was going to be chopped down! He is chased around the woods and fortunately ducks into a drain. He comes across a bombed damaged home that belongs to a young woman (Edna Purviance). The enemy soldiers have tracked him down to the house. He manages to get away but unfortunately the girl is captured.
At the end of the film The Tramp is a hero.
There is also a bit of a good twist that I will definitely not give away.
Shoulder Arms was hysterical. Charlie Chaplin made what been a horrible war and a horrible experience for the soldiers light and creative. His iconic Little Tramp outsmarted the dreaded Germans. Chaplin created a film to make people laugh. He would do almost the same exact thing in The Great Dictator he took a dark subject, pointed out it insanities, and exaggerated them to make the subject light and funny. I cracked up with some of his facial expressions and I could not take it with the scene with the cheese it was genius. I enjoyed Shoulder Arms from beginning to end I highly recommend watching this. It is available to view in full on Youtube.