After the wonderful highs of The Bank, this film was a huge come down. It is by far my least favourite Charlie Chaplin film to date although there are inevitably some good moments to be found.
The only joke that made me laugh out loud was Chaplin’s ridiculous naval salute which was somewhere between blowing a raspberry and a high five. While that is hilarious, the rest of the film isn’t. The only other joke that made me even smile was when Chaplin throws a rescue rope behind him by accident. The rest of the gags were mediocre. Chaplin was to find success with a nautical theme just a couple of years later in The Immigrant and you can see the workings of some of the jokes from that classic film during Shanghaied. The most notable of these was the dinner during choppy seas. In addition to one or two decent jokes there is also some nice close-up work, something which was rare for Chaplin at the time. In one scene the fuse of some dynamite is shown in very close zoom rather than the traditional wide shot of the whole set. This marks further development of Chaplin’s ever expanding film craft. The one final aspect of the film that I enjoyed was Chaplin’s incredible tray handling skills. This is something he revisited years later in Modern Times but while it is more spectacular there, it feels much more real here.
As well as The Immigrant the film also has shades of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr in that both central characters are bumbling buffoons in love with a ship owner’s daughter. Keaton’s later film undoubtedly takes some elements from Shanghaied but adds much more and is a far superior film. Keaton's film actually contains a subtle nod to Chaplin during a scene in which Keaton is trying on hats.
The cast features Chaplin's regular troupe of actors, most of which over act under heavy false beards and eyebrows and includes the likes of Bud Jamison, Leo White, Billy Armstrong, Paddy McGuire and Wesley Ruggles. These are actors which Chaplin knew well by now with most appearing in all of his films.
My main problems with this film were that the story felt under developed and there weren’t enough jokes. It feels like Chaplin got an idea of ‘the Tramp on a ship’ and just made it up as he went along (something that was often the case in early Chaplin films). While this was sometimes very successful, here it is far less so.