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Film / Shoulder Arms

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Shoulder Arms is a 1918 short film (46 minutes) starring and directed by Charlie Chaplin.

In this film, Charlie is an American doughboy fighting in World War I. After an opening sequence showing Charlie's incompetence at basic training, the film cuts to the trenches of France. Charlie goes over the top, dons a gas mask to deal with Limburger cheese, and goes on a dangerous scouting mission behind enemy lines, where he meets a pretty French girl (regular Chaplin leading lady Edna Purviance).

Originally intended to be a feature film, with two long sequences removed—one where Charlie is a Henpecked Husband who's glad to get his draft notice, and another comic sequence dealing with Charlie's medical examination.note  Shoulder Arms, released three weeks before the Armistice, is possibly the first comedic war movie ever made.


  • All Just a Dream: The final 3/4 or so of the film, namely all of Charlie's adventures in France, turns out to be a dream that Charlie has while in boot camp.
  • "Be Quiet!" Nudge: The Allied telegraph operator that Charlie saved from death by impromptu firing squad is captured again, and meets Charlie at German headquarters, where Charlie is impersonating a German officer. As the telegraph operator's voice lights up with joy, Charlie punches him in the face to stop him from revealing Charlie's true identity.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Charlie holds his cigarette above the trench, and a German sniper lights it with a bullet. (He also does this to get a cap off a bottle.)
  • Gray Rain of Depression: As Charlie stands guard in the trench during a torrential rainstorm, he thinks about life back home and the bar he used to patronize.
  • Historical Domain Character: Kaiser Wilhelm II.
  • Literal Ass-Kicking: It's not often one gets the chance to kick the Emperor of Germany in the butt.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: Charlie is sent behind German lines, disguised as a tree, in order to gain intelligence. Unfortunately, a German soldier decides to chop him down for firewood.
  • Nameless Narrative: Typical for Chaplin's films.
  • The Neidermeyer: The obnoxious, diminutive German officer who berates and abuses his men. When Charlie turns the officer over his knee and spanks him, the German soldiers cheer.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The American assault on the German trench results in Charlie capturing thirteen enemy soldiers. When his astonished CO asks how he did it, Charlie answers "I surrounded them."
  • Reed Snorkel: A particularly silly example. The little dugout where Charlie and three other soldiers are bunking has flooded to waist deep due to the rains. Charlie, who wants to lay down and sleep but whose bed is fully underwater, picks up the trumpet to a record player. He then completely submerges himself, presumably going to sleep underwater as he uses the trumpet to breathe.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The French girl dresses up as a German soldier to help Charlie and Charlie's buddy get past the guards. Charlie smears axle grease on her lip to simulate a mustache.