Showing posts with label Shoulder Arms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shoulder Arms. Show all posts

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Chaplin's Funny Feet Walk Into War Comedy"

Ninety-eight years ago today, Chaplin's satire of WWI, Shoulder Arms, was released. The following is an excerpt from a June 1918 article by Grace Kingsley in which she observes Chaplin, and brother Syd, grappling with a title for the film (Charlie considered calling it "Hearts of Fate") and filming a sequence with children (which was, of course, never used). I've included illustrations from the original article, by Harry Barndollar, as well as real photos.

"Chaplin's Funny Feet Walk Into War Comedy"
by Grace Kingsley
Los Angeles Times, June 30th, 1918

"Shoulder Arms," Mr. Chaplin christened his picture the other day after wrinkling a whole hour over the problem, out at the studio, the while the comedian, Brer Sid and the rest of us drank innumerable cups of tea. All the name had to suggest was patriotism and fun, and drama and punch and a few other things like that. Of course the christening wasn't effected without a lot of skirmishing. Sid Chaplin must have his joke, for one thing.
"Call it 'The Bums Of Berlin!'" he suggested.
But Brer Charlie wasn't going to have any low-comedy names, because his bright necklace of laughter is really strung on a stout little thread of seriousness.
The Fat Comedian, who is inclined to be sentimental, suggested it be called "Hearts Of Fate."
"Hearts Of Lettuce," parodied Sid Chaplin.
Why not call It 'Charlie Carries On," suggested the Thin Heavy, which sounded reasonable, too. But the comedian took a reflective munch of his third slice of cake, and a quick gulp of tea, got up and walked into the door of a set, emerged on the other side and triumphantly announced:
"Shoulder Arms!"
"Which you must admit has punch in its sound, suggests either comedy or pathos, and altogether, like the Mother Hubbard wrapper of the senator's speech, "covers everything and touches nothing."

Charlie & Syd in Shoulder Arms

"And now, Sid," said Charlie, "tell the lady the plot."
Sid looked perplexed. "Don't I just wish you could!" laughed Charlie.
As a matter of fact, the plot always thickens slowly as Chaplin proceeds with his pictures. But he's always certain about the theme. That's the vital thing which many comedy makers overlook, according to Charlie--the theme which makes for success in comedy just as much as it does in heavy drama, he declares.
"The story is a sketchy thing," explains Charlie seriously, "really it's just a ...."
But there, we nearly told. ...
Of course, you know Charlie uses a number of children in this production. In fact, these scenes are all finished, and it is here that Charlie has achieved a fairly Barrie-esque whimsicality. But not without much hard labor were the scenes made, with the comedian directing the youngsters every minute.

A school teacher--at $2700 a day! That was Chaplin during the making of these scenes.
"And although I love those kids dearly, and though they were just as clever as they could be--well, I take back all I ever said about school teachers," grinned the comedian.
It seems they all had a great day at Venice last week with the kids taking in all the joys of the Midway under Chaplin's sole supervision, the mommers being specially requested to stay behind. One youngster got stage fright or something during the mad progress of the merry-go-round, and Chaplin had to achieve an athletic rescue; another Chaplin found at the helm of the peanut roaster, where he was trying to persuade the owner to let him run the machine; another had to be forcibly peeled like a plaster off the roller coaster after his fourth round trip; but on the whole Charlie says he thoroughly enjoyed being nursemaid for a day.

One of the youngsters fell and hurt himself a bit. "Actors don't cry," Charlie remonstrated. "Whereupon," he related, all the kids got together and speculated on what might make an actor cry. Finally one of them said, "Well, I'll bet If Charlie fell out of a balloon he'd cry." Which seemed to settle the matter. "And a funny little thing happened when a strange little boy walked up to me and told me timidly that he 'liked me better than he did any of the other Charlies.'"
"I had an awful time getting any of the children to play the Kaiser. They wouldn't even be bribed--they said It would be disloyal to the United States. Finally, how do you think I got one of the youngsters to play tho part? Well, I just told him I'd hit him awfully hard. And he said, 'Well, all right, If you'll promise to hit the Kaiser awful hard, I'll play him.'"

Charlie puts Kaiser makeup on one of the children.
There was some debate a few years ago about whether or not this child is Doug, Jr.
 I don't believe that it is. To me, he looks like the child wearing the bowler in the above photos.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

SHOULDER ARMS, released October 20th, 1918

Chaplin's war comedy, released 22 days before the Armistice was signed, became one of his most successful and important films.

Chaplin signs the opening title card and then mimics shooting at the Tramp.
"The Awkward Squad"
Soldier Charlie dreams about home.
Chaplin deleted this "three-on-a-match" sequence when he re-released the film as part of
the Chaplin Revue in 1959. 
Filming this scene in the tree costume was "anything but comfortable"
due to the heat wave in Los Angeles that summer.
Charlie awakens in an abandoned cottage to find Edna, a French girl, tending
to a wound on his hand.
Albert Austin (left) and Henry Bergman each played at least three roles in the film.
 Syd Chaplin (right) portrays both Charlie's army pal and the Kaiser (above).
He can also be seen as the latter in The Bond, a short film Chaplin made
 for the Liberty Bond effort that was released shortly before Shoulder Arms
Charlie helps Edna disguise herself as a German soldier.
Charlie captures the Kaiser, or was it all a dream?

Monday, May 25, 2015

It's Memorial Day here in the U.S. Take a few moments to remember a soldier.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chaplin, violin in hand, with Alf Reeves, c. 1918

In this photo from My Life In Pictures, Chaplin states that he brought his violin to California on the Karno tour. I think this caption causes some confusion as to the date of the photo. This was not taken during the Fred Karno tour but at the Chaplin Studios, probably c. 1918.

Actually, judging from Chaplin's clothing, it may have been taken at the same time as actress Ina Claire's visit to the Shoulder Arms set.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Charlie vs. "The Rookie"

Evening News (Harrisburg, PA) May 12, 1927

In 1927, a disinfectant salesman named Leo Loeb sued Chaplin for $50,000 claiming that the idea for Shoulder Arms was lifted from a scenario he wrote in 1918 while he was in the Marines called "The Rookie." Loeb sent the scenario to the Chaplin Studios later that year. He received a rejection letter dated April 24, 1918 which stated that Chaplin did not wish to burlesque the government's war activities.

The trial began in New York on May 5th 1927. Jurors and counsel were given printed sheets of paper with parallel columns containing a synopsis of "The Rookie" on one side and Shoulder Arms on the other. Chaplin's film was also shown in court as evidence.

Leo Loeb took the witness stand first.  Chaplin's attorney, Nathan Burkan, read 81 of the 159 long scenes of Shoulder Arms and after each reading asked the witness if there was anything in that scene that he could recall as having been taken from his scenario & to point out any similarity between the two. Mr. Loeb tried to explain that while no two scenes were exactly alike, his play had inspired Shoulder Arms & was an elaboration of it.

Chaplin spent two days on the witness stand. The first day, May 9th, he arrived in court with his attorney Nathan Burkan and his valet, Toriachi Kono. He was clad in a dark gray suit, blue shirt & matching collar, derby hat, his token button-up shoes, and carrying an ivory-headed snakewood cane on his arm.* He "threaded his way through a crowd of girls employed by the building" and took a seat at the defense table. When he was called to the stand, he handed his hat and cane to Kono.

In the witness chair, Chaplin put one foot underneath him and sat on it. In answer to questions by his attorney, Chaplin stated that his name was Charles Spencer Chaplin, he was 38 years old and was writer and director of his pictures. Mr. Burkan asked Chaplin if he had used Mr. Loeb's scenario when writing Shoulder Arms. Chaplin replied:

"I did not. I never saw the scenario, nor did anyone ever call my attention to it." After a pause he turned to the jury and, with a right hand slightly elevated, he added, "On my word of honor, gentlemen, and on my oath."

Chaplin on the witness stand.

In reply to another question, he explained:

"My pictures are conceived as I go along. The creative mind doesn't work from detailed directions."

Chaplin explained that he thought of Shoulder Arms while he was campaigning in 1918 for the Third Liberty Loan.

While on the witness stand, Chaplin nervously swung his arms and legs and fidgeted in his chair.

Under cross-examination by Loeb's attorney Mortimer Hays Chaplin said that he thought the "whole case was absurd." "Do you still think so?" asked Mr. Hays. "Yes, I do, to be candid about it," answered Chaplin.

On several occasions during Mr. Hay's questioning, Chaplin "shrugged his shoulders and grinned ruefully to the amusement of spectators as they recognized the shoulder movement so often depicted on screen."

Hays handed Chaplin a synopsis of "The Rookie" and asked him to look at the first scene. "Chaplin scrutinized the paper with expressions of exaggerated concentration which brought general laughter. He shrugged with a pathetic gesture of frustration and the spectators rocked in their seats."

"I'm afraid I can't read it," he apologized to Hays, "I forgot to bring my glasses."

Nathan Burkan offered up his glasses and Chaplin "tried them on his nose and then stared blankly at the paper. His expression and pantomime of his inability to see brought more laughter in which Judge Bondy joined."

Judge Bondy leaned over the bench and proffered Chaplin the judicial spectacles. The actor took them with a bow, tried them frontwards, backwards, as a monocle with the extra glass riding over one ear, and then as a magnifying glass.

"I can read!" he cried with a happy smile and the crowd cheered.

There was more laughter when Chaplin described the original opening of Shoulder Arms and a scene showing Charlie quarreling with "my wife." Chaplin sensing the situation added "that is, she was supposed to be my wife in the picture." This brought even more laughter.

Chaplin said that he had gone over the Loeb scenario and that it was a "one, two, three, commonplace plot. Mine is the story of the inadequacy of a poor frail human being, immersed in the war."

Chaplin had been patient under the sharp questioning of Hays but he became annoyed when the lawyer insisted on a yes or no answer to his questions.

"Don't you see a similarity between your picture and the scenario of Mr. Loeb?" Hays asked. Chaplin replied, "Yes, but..."

"Answer yes or no," Hays demanded. "There is a similarity in a general way, in background. But there is absolutely no similarity in action, thought, and the whole psychology."

Chaplin once accused Hays of talking in generalities and asserted he did not know what the lawyer meant by his questions.

"Hays questioned him about a bunkhouse scene in his play, handed the printed play to him and asked: 'Do you see where it is written?' 'You mean the bunk,' queried Chaplin, and the lawyer replied, 'No, I mean the bunkhouse.' Chaplin interrupted to say 'This is the bunk.' This set the crowd off again. He grinned cheerfully when Judge Bondy rebuked him."

"Shoulder Arms is one of your greatest pictures, isn't it?" asked Hays.

"Modesty forbids an answer," Chaplin replied. "It was a lot of hard work."

Chaplin's testimony ended on May 10th. The next day a deposition by Sydney Chaplin was read in court by Nathan Burkan. Syd said he was a "gag" man during the making of Shoulder Arms and that he didn't know where his brother derived the idea of the film.

Tom Harrington, Chaplin's valet in 1918, corroborated other testimony by witnesses that Chaplin was on his Liberty Loan tour in the south in April 1918 when Loeb's scenario was received and rejected by the studio.

The case ended in a mistrial on May 12th when jurors failed to agree on a verdict. Chaplin won the case when it was retried in November.


*One reporter noted that Chaplin's ensemble included "no display of jewelry."

New York Times, May 10-11, 1927
Portsmouth Daily Times, May 10, 1927
Reading Times, May 10, 1927

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Charlie gets the death sentence, 1918

"Charles Spencer Chaplin, the most famous man in the world, stood with his hands tied behind his back, sentenced to death. He wore a blindfold which had slipped up over his forehead.
'You have to shut your eyes, Mr. Chaplin--you have to shut your eyes!' shouted the bigger of two boys, who was squinting behind a gun. The other one was bringing up ammunition. Mr. Chaplin did as he was told. There was a great shout from the children on the lot when the small, tailored figure swayed gently and then toppled over realistically. When he lay still for the space of ten seconds, the boys ran over and shook him in genuine alarm, followed by all the other kiddies in the yard of the studio. Mr. Chaplin sat up, slipped the bandage from his forehead, and laughed good-naturedly as the children squatted around him on the grass and demanded a story." (Picture Play, December 1918)

The above photo was taken when Charlie was casting for children for what would have originally been the opening scenes of Shoulder Arms. According to an article in Picture Play magazine, Charlie enjoyed playing with the children but also watched over them as if they were his own.

Below are a few more photos. You can read the article here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

RIP Henry Bergman (February 23, 1868 – October 22, 1946)

Henry Bergman became an indispensable member of Chaplin's stock company in 1916. He adored Charlie and was a loyal and supportive friend and associate for 30 years. Chaplin repaid that loyalty by keeping Henry on his payroll until his death.

In an interview from 1931, Henry remembers how he came to work for Charlie:
I had known Mr. Chaplin personally. We used to be quite friendly at dinners, etc., and when I mentioned to him that I was looking for a job he said, "Why don't you come with me? You can work with me when I start a company of my own." That's the way it was. (Interview with Mayme Ober Peak, Boston Globe, February 22, 1931. I posted a longer excerpt from the interview here.)
Bergman was a versatile actor and would sometimes have multiple roles in one film. During filming, he was known to be just as tireless as Charlie:
For hour on hour on a sweltering August day during Shoulder Arms, Charlie forced the weighty Henry, in a full parade of German arms and uniform and sweating under a full muff (or crepe hair beard) to pursue him, disguised as a tree stump, through a eucalyptus grove. "You great fat hulk," complained the ex­hausted comedian. "Can't I wear you out?" Henry pled fatigue, but told Chaplin he was determined not to give up until Charlie did. (Harry Crocker, "Henry Bergman," Academy Leader, April 1972). 
In the 1920s, Bergman opened a popular Hollywood restaurant called Henry’s (possibly financed, or co-financed, by Chaplin). Henry would often go from table to table talking with customers, with his ever-present cigar dangling from his mouth. Charlie, who was fascinated by the success of the restaurant, was a regular customer. His favorite dishes were the lentil soup and coleslaw.

One of the last photos of Henry was taken on the set of Monsieur Verdoux. He did not have a role in the film and died from a heart attack shortly after shooting had begun.

Cameraman Rollie Totheroh is between Bergman and Chaplin. Associate Director Robert Florey is on the left of Bergman and Charlie’s half-brother Wheeler Dryden is behind Florey. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Deleted scenes from Shoulder Arms

The film was originally to have opened with scenes featuring Charlie’s miserable home life, which he is happy to leave when he gets drafted into the Army. Chaplin shot and edited these scenes, but chose to discard them and begin the movie with Charlie already a soldier. In the deleted footage, we see Charlie walking with his three sons, communicating with his mean wife who hurls objects at him off-screen (and whose girth is implied from her laundry), and Charlie’s army physical with Dr. Francis Maud, played by Albert Austin.

Sydney Chaplin in costume as the Kaiser in Shoulder Arms (1918)

Sydney also portrayed the Kaiser in Charlie’s propaganda film The Bond also from 1918.

Source: Syd Chaplin: A Biography/Lisa K. Stein

SHOULDER ARMS, released October 20th, 1918

This was Chaplin's second "million dollar comedy" for First National & was his most successful film up to that time. It was risky to make a satire of war while WWI was still in progress and after filming was finished Chaplin himself was not completely satisfied with it. He states in his autobiography that he was ready to "throw it in the ash can" but changed his mind after he screened the film for his friend, Douglas Fairbanks, who went into "roars of laughter."

Beginning with A Dog's Life, Chaplin began featuring his signature on posters as well as the main title cards of the films themselves in an effort to avoid confusion with the many Chaplin reissues that were being released under new titles and then advertised as the latest Chaplin comedy. If you didn't see his signature, it was not a genuine Charlie Chaplin new release.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chaplin & company on location with Shoulder Arms, 1918

Albert Austin is at far left. Henry Bergman is talking to Syd Chaplin (with mustache). Studio manager Alf Reeves is in the center (wearing a straw hat), Charlie is seated in front. Cameraman Rollie Totheroh, wearing a visor, is next to the camera. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

On the set of SHOULDER ARMS, 1918

Sydney Chaplin is dressed as the Kaiser at far left. He also played the Kaiser in The Bond, a film Chaplin made the same year for the Liberty Bond effort.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


It's Veterans Day here in the U.S. Take a moment to remember someone who has served our country.