ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

New book examines Charlie Chaplin's 'war trilogy'

Updated on October 3, 2014
Three of Charlie Chaplin's most dynamic movies are analyzed in a new book.
Three of Charlie Chaplin's most dynamic movies are analyzed in a new book. | Source

Icon dished comedy with bite

Charlie Chaplin has a widespread image as a comedic legend.
His most famous on-screen character is the winsome “Little Tramp.”
Yet, the actor/director delved into substantive humor that went beyond mere frivolity.
Wes D. Gehring dissects that particular aspect in his new book, “Chaplin’s War Trilogy: An Evolving Lens in Three Dark Comedies, 1918-1947” ($45 softcover; McFarland & Company, Inc.
That trio of Chaplin’s works is “Shoulder Arms” (1918), “The Great Dictator” (1940) and “Monsieur Verdoux” (1947).
In his book, Gehring writes that “Shoulder Arms” injects Chaplin’s Tramp persona into World War I as a soldier on the Western Front.
“It was a controversial film at the time,” said Gehring, a film professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
Gehring explains in his book that “dark film comedy” was simply not being done in 1918.
Additionally, “Shoulder Arms” brought a comedic theme into a serious and personal subject matter for millions of people -- World War I, which America was involved in.
As the author sees it, “Shoulder Arms” is a pro-war film “predicated upon the necessity of fighting to defeat Germany.” Chaplin vigorously promoted war bonds as a way to raise money for Uncle Sam’s military needs.
On the other hand, “The Great Dictator” -- released a year before America’s entry into World War II -- stands as “a plea to stop the insanity,” according to Gehring, a movie columnist for USA Today magazine and a Muncie resident.
“The Great Dictator” caught the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“It was an attack on Hitler … Roosevelt was real supportive of the film,” Gehring, 63, said in a phone interview this fall.
“The Great Dictator” features one of the most enduring scenes from 20th century cinema -- the title character’s choreographic maneuvers that bounce and elevate a balloon globe in a symbolic display of world domination.
Chaplin’s portrayal of a Hitler-like ruler is said to have caught the attention of the target of the biting satire.
“We don’t know what he thought of it, but we have, on the record, that he watched it twice,” said Gehring, surmising that Adolf Hitler must have had some kind of interest in the motion picture.
There is a different type of military angle to 1947’s “Monsieur Verdoux” -- a tale of a sinister man who weds, then kills, wealthy ladies for their riches.
Alluding to World War II, “Monsieur Verdoux” inserts newsreel footage of Hitler and Italian fascist Benito Mussolini.
Released in late summer, “Chaplin’s War Trilogy” contends the film is “a morality play about the murderous war-like inclinations of big business.”
Chaplin jumped from pro-war fervor in “Shoulder Arms” to pacifism in “The Great Dictator,” and then leapt into the corporate/economic side of the war equation in “Monsieur Verdoux.”
As Gehring sees it: “He delved just completely into the idea that war is a very profitable kind of thing.”
Gehring‘s photo-rich Chaplin book makes the point that the film’s “extreme dark comedy message-mindset is clearly based upon the horrific developments of World War II.”
The widow-hunting Verdoux is based on Frenchman Henri Landru, a real-life serial killer. Landru was executed in 1922, but not before murdering numerous women and making off with their financial assets.
Verdoux, according to “Chaplin’s War Trilogy,” conveyed the concept of “murder as business, or business being like murder.”
Gehring is well qualified to tie three of Chaplin’s war-related works together, according to David L. Smith, professor emeritus of telecommunications at Ball State University.
“I think he’s extremely well-versed in film,” said Smith, noting Gehring’s reputation as a “prolific” author who has written more than 30 cinema-related books that include biographies of acting legends James Dean and Steve McQueen.
Calling Gehring an “excellent researcher,” Smith indicated that writing about movies is in his blood: “He enjoys doing it. That’s his life.”
Gehring is a George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of telecommunications at Ball State University.
For his part, Smith -- who taught film at Ball State -- is the author of the exhaustive coffee-table book “Hoosiers in Hollywood,” and also wrote a biography of famous movie actor Clifton Webb, who starred in “Cheaper By the Dozen.”
On Aug. 24, Gehring spoke about Chaplin’s “Shoulder Arms” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His address was given at a program tied to the museum’s recognition of this year’s 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.
Chaplin died on Christmas Day in 1977 at the age of 88.

Charlie Chaplin's "Little Tramp" character is a revered cinematic persona.
Charlie Chaplin's "Little Tramp" character is a revered cinematic persona. | Source


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)