How long have filmmakers been blending the genres of war movies and comedies? Released in 1918, just shortly before the end of the first World War, Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms is possibly the first example; certainly it’s one of the first. Chaplin, as was usual for his silent films, wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, though he is not playing his “Little Tramp” character here. Here, he’s the otherwise-unnamed recruit #13, fighting for the Allies in the trenches in France.
It’s a short film — depending on the cut it’s either 35 minutes or 45 — and easily digestible. Being of such a small length, and having only minimal dialogue through title cards, it doesn’t have a particularly complex plot, and instead feels more like a series of sequential vignettes. There’s a definite storyline, but it’s told in short acts instead of a continuous block. We see recruit #13 in training camp, then on the front lines, then on a dangerous spy mission. Continue reading