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Film / Arms and the Man

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Arms and the Man (original title Helden—"Heroes") is a 1958 film from West Germany directed by Franz Peter Wirth.

It is an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's 1894 comic play, Arms and the Man. The setting is during and after the two-week 1885 war between Serbia and Bulgaria. Captain Bluntschli, a Swiss mercenary serving in the Serbian army, is defending a position against an attack from a Bulgarian cavalry squad, led by Lt. Sergius Saranoff. Bluntschli's men have a cannon, so when Saranoff leads his troops into a reckless attack, it should be a slaughter...except that the cannon has the wrong kind of ammunition, so it can't be fired. Bluntschli, who was so confident he didn't even bother to stop shaving as the Bulgarians attacked, suddenly has to run for his life.

He runs into the nearest town and, hoping to avoid capture, climbs a trellis into the second-story window of a farmhouse. Bluntschli finds himself in the bedroom of Rania Petkoff, a beautiful young Bulgarian woman. He pulls a gun at first but soon admits that it isn't loaded and begs her to hide him. Rania, unable to bring herself to hand over a man for execution, agrees to hide him. Naturally she starts to develop feelings for the handsome, charming Bluntschli, which is a problem, as she's engaged to be married. To Sergius.

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Tropes:

  • Beta Couple: Sergius and Louka the maid, who get paired off to clear the way for the Bluntschli-Rania romance.
  • Betty and Veronica: For Sergius at least, who is engaged to Rania (pretty, sweet, innocent, The Ingenue) and finds himself attracted to Louka (curvy, wears low-cut blouses, obviously more sexual).
  • Cock-a-Doodle Dawn: A rooster crows to mark the morning that Sergius and Bluntschli are due to fight their duel.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Where does Bluntschli hide? In the room of the woman who's engaged to the officer Bluntschli just faced on the battlefield.
  • Door-Closes Ending: The film ends with a servant closing the gates to the Petkoff estate.
  • Dramatic Irony: Bluntschli tells Petkoff the story of how he escaped capture by hiding in a young woman's room, but he doesn't mention who the young woman was. A knowingly amused Petkoff says that the young woman must have been in love. All the while, Rania cringes in embarrassment right next to him.
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  • Duel to the Death: Downplayed. Sergius challenges Bluntschli to a duel with swords, but after Bluntschli wins by disarming Sergius, Sergius withdraws his challenge. This is a change to the play, in which they never fight, after Bluntschli chooses machine guns as the weapon.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Sergius makes a cavalry charge that should have gotten him and his unit massacred, but which succeeds by pure dumb luck. He's hailed as a hero.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Sergius launches an incredibly foolish cavalry charge right at a cannon, but gets away with it when the cannon misfires.
  • The Ingenue: Rania is idealistic and innocent and virginal. Her character growth has her maturing out of this.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Rania says that Bluntschli has to leave because her father, a proud Bulgarian, will hate him. Cue Petkoff enthusiastically greeting Bluntschli, his good friend.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title (in English, anyway) is taken from Shaw's play which is taken from the first line of The Aeneid: "Of arms and the man I sing."
  • Love Triangle: Two, as a matter of fact - Bluntschli/Raina/Sergius and Raina/Sergius/Louka.
  • Match Cut: A not-at-all subtle joke when the film cuts from Bluntschli and Sergius fighting their duel, to two roosters fighting back at the Petkoff farmhouse.
  • Oh, Crap!: Captain Bluntschli, one half of his face still covered in shaving cream, gets off an epic Oh, Crap! look when
  • Private Military Contractors: Capt. Bluntschli is a Swiss officer serving as a mercenary with the Serbs.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Rania's justification for not turning Bluntschli in.
  • Secretly Wealthy: The last obstacle to Rania marrying Bluntschli is posed by her father: Sergius is wealthy and has property and horses, while Bluntschli is just a common mercenary. That's when Bluntschli reveals that he's a lot richer than Sergius, coming from a family that owns vast estates and a whole chain of hotels.
  • Sweater Girl: The bosomy Louka wears a lot of tight, low-cut peasant blouses. This serves to contrast her with the more innocent Rania.
  • Vapor Wear: Bluntschli intrudes into Rania's room at night. He is startled when she lights a lamp, which serves to show the outline of her very shapely body through the translucent nightie she was wearing in bed.
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