Project Description

Charlie Chaplin: Shoulder Arms

A very warm welcome to the third in our series of monthly releases of limited edition Charlie Chaplin photographs for 2019—part of our celebration of the 130th anniversary of his birth—where each month we focus on a key Charlie Chaplin film.  

Over the course of 2019 we will build a substantial collection of important Charlie Chaplin photographs—all of which are available to purchase and hang on your walls at home or in your office. 

You can see photographs from previous months here. This month we launch a collection of images from Charlie Chaplin’s second film for First National, Shoulder Arms, released in 1918. 

The images that follow are available to purchase in limited editions as museum-quality archival handmade silver gelatin photographs, in a range of sizes from 10 x 12 inches to 48 x 60 inches.

Scroll down and select an image for full details.

Why not sign up to our newsletter to receive details of each month’s release?

SHOULDER ARMS (1918)

Limited edition photographs available to purchase.

Shoulder Arms, released in 1918, was Charlie Chaplin’s second film for First National Films.

In his Autobiography Chaplin wrote: “I was worried about getting an idea for my second picture. Then the thought came to me: why not a comedy about the war? I told several friends of my intention, but they shook their heads. Said De Mille: ‘It’s dangerous at this time to make fun of the war.’ Dangerous or not, the idea excited me. Shoulder Arms was originally planned to be five reels. The beginning was to be “home life,” the middle “the war,” and the end “the banqueting,” showing all the crowned heads of Europe celebrating my heroic act of capturing the Kaiser.” 

Chaplin started filming Shoulder Arms  at the end of May 1918, and it was released at the end of October 1918. These were the dying days of World War I—the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. Shoulder Arms was his longest film to date, running at forty six minutes, and was his first feature length film. The original plan was revised and the scenes of home life (which took a month to shoot) were discarded. 

In the film, Charlie is recruited to the “awkward squad”, and has great trouble straightening his wayward feet. Posted to the front line in France, he experiences all the discomforts of life in the trenches. He meets a French girl, played by Edna Purviance, and rescues her from German troops. He disguises himself as a tree, and later kidnaps the German Kaiser. It was all a dream, as he finds out when he wakes up, still in the “awkward squad”. 

Chaplin had considerable doubts about the film when it was complete. He wrote: The picture took a long time to make and I was not satisfied with it, and I got everybody in the studio feeling the same way—and now Douglas Fairbanks wanted to see it. From the beginning Fairbanks went into roars of laughter, stopping only for coughing spells. When it was over and we came out into the daylight, his eyes were wet from laughing.”

With hindsight, Chaplin had no reason to doubt. Audiences loved it. With the release of the film coming so close to the end of the war, the timing was perfect for troops returning home from the trenches to see it. They loved it just as much as Douglas Fairbanks. 

Shoulder Arms

Shoulder Arms
Buy this

Here’s Charlie after arriving in the trenches. Note the non-standard equipment on his belt – the whisk, coffee pot, mousetrap and large cheese-grater which he would use for a bit of comedy business once inside the sleeping quarters. A painted version of this image was used on theatrical posters for the film.

Backscratcher

Backscratcher
Buy this

Charlie hangs his cheese-grater on the wall of the sleeping quarters, and proceeds to use it as a backscratcher. When it doesn’t really do the trick he uses one of his fellow soldiers beards to scratch the itch.

Emerging from the Vermin Club

Emerging from the Vermin Club
Buy this
Here’s Charlie emerging from his quarters, the ‘Vermin Club’, ready for action.

Ready to go over the top

Ready to go over the top
Buy this

Chaplin was lucky to escape a very nasty injury during the filming of the trench warfare scenes. At one point, as he was preparing to go over the top, a can containing lead slugs exploded above him, and if he had been looking at it, he would potentially have lost his sight. The can should have contained powder, and Chaplin and the crew suspected foul play – someone had substituted the powder for lead. After that an armed guard patrolled the studio. 

Film set for the trench

Film set for the trench
Buy this

Photographs such as this—which document the empty set where important film action took place—will be a feature of each collection of photographs we launch throughout 2019.

Even though this photograph acts as a simple photographic record of the set layout, it is remarkably evocative—it is impossible to look at this photograph without thinking of the action that took place there.

Disguised as a tree

Disguised as a tree
Buy this

Charlie volunteers to go behind enemy lines disguised as a tree trunk. He saves a fellow soldier from a firing squad and flattens a few German troops in the process.

In the director’s chair in disguise

In the director’s chair in disguise
Buy this

Chaplin directs the action in his tree costume. These scenes behind enemy lines were filmed in a baking August heat wave in and around some eucalyptus trees near Wilshire Boulevard.

The French girl finds the soldier

The French girl finds the soldier
Buy this

Here the French girl discovers the sleeping soldier on her bed.

L’Amour

L’Amour
Buy this

The French girl tends the wounds of the injured soldier, while he looks bashfully to camera. L’amour is in the air.

The house collapses

The house collapses
Buy this

Here’s Charlie in the wreckage of the French girl’s house,  standing proud over captured German troops. This is a posed photograph—in the actual film footage, Charlie makes a hasty exit from the ruin as soon as it collapses.

 Want to see more?

To find out all about our plans for 2019—in which we celebrate the genius of Charlie Chaplin—just click on the green button below, and read on.

Back to the Charlie Chaplin main page

Charlie Chaplin ™ © Bubbles Incorporated SA 2019
Photographs © Roy Export S.A.S / Roy Export Co. Ltd
Scans by Cineteca di Bologna / Musée de l’Elysée