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Charlie Chaplin's perfect film about the First World War

Charlie Chaplin in Shoulder Arms

Amid the commemorations of the start of the First World War, you might like a bit of respectful levity, so here is Charlie Chaplin's Shoulder Arms. It's one of my favourite films, made at a point where Chaplin was peaking, with a perfect balance of sheer inventiveness and just the right amount of sentiment. Before he was a little too nasty and liable to kick people in the ass and leer at ladies; after he increasingly tended to the cloying. But in 1918, when he made Shoulder Arms, he was at the height of his genius and popularity.

Chaplin faced criticism for not enlisting (he was too small anyway), but he raised war bonds for the troops and his films helped the morale both of soldiers and those at home. Shoulder Arms is brilliant for movingly and hilariously portraying the emotional reality and detail of life in the trenches. But even in this setting, Chaplin manages to maintain his anti-authoritarian nose-thumbing and his deep understanding of human weakness and aspiration. And the scene with the cheese is just brilliant. Watch, laugh and cry...

For more about Charlie Chaplin and his obsession with the violin, read my article here.

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