In "The Great Dictator," his first talking film, Charlie Chaplin skewers both Adolf Hitler (Adenoid Hynkel) and Benito Mussolini (Benzino Napaloni) on sharp spears of ridicule. "I'm a clown," he said in an interview with T... more »he New York Times Magazine shortly before the film's 1940 premiere, "and what can I do that is more effective than to laugh at these fellows that are putting humanity to the goose step?" Chaplin plays both the malevolent dictator and an innocent Jewish barber who is in love with Hannah (Paulette Goddard). The plot turns on the astonishing resemblance of the dictator to the barber. Mistaken for "the Phooey" (der Fuhrer), the barber makes a speech at an enormous rally for the "Sons and Daughters of the Double Cross" that double crosses the double crossers.« less
Andrew McCaffrey | Satellite of Love, Maryland | 08/04/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When Chaplin began planning his next film in 1937, criticizing the rise of fascism in Europe and condemning the treatment of the Jewish people under Adolf Hitler were controversial ideas, although they would become more accepted by the time of the film's eventual release in 1940. Chaplin stated in later years that he would not -- could not -- have joked about conditions in Germany had he known the full extent of the Holocaust. But this was an important film to be made. When the world was hemming and hawing over what to do about this great evil, Chaplin didn't back down. Maybe not all of the comedy is as successful as it could have been, but the movie's heart is definitely in the right place.
The film is divided roughly in half, with Chaplin playing the starring role in each segment (I've never understood the opening disclaimer stating that the resemblance of the dictator and the Jewish barber is entirely coincidental; the final portion of the film depends precisely on their similarity). The first role is the most obvious, given Chaplin's familiar mustache and general appearance. He plays Adenoid Hynkel, a very thinly veiled impersonation of Adolf Hitler. Chaplin's motivation appears to make Hitler look like a goofball -- the target of ridicule. He falls down stairs, he flies into a rage when his office supplies don't function correctly, and he plays a childish game of one-upmanship with his "brother dictator", Benzino Napaloni of Bacteria. In one of the film's most memorable sequences, he performs a dance with a globe of the Earth, happily gazing at all which he hopes to conquer. It's a bizarrely wonderful moment -- funny, frightening and beautifully directed. And it surely can't be by chance that in the first shot of the globe itself, the Western Hemisphere -- the United States of America -- is what is pointed at the camera.
The other part of the film is ultimately the most moving, especially from a modern day perspective. Chaplin's tramp had always been the everyman -- the little guy up against the world. Surely there had not been a more beloved character in the history of film than the diminutive beggar with his ill-fitting costume. Gaining sympathy for his cause is simplicity itself; take this adored tramp who has entertained millions and turn him into a Jewish barber living in central Europe. Seeing this wonderful and charming character thrown into the horrors of a ghetto in Germany during WWII is shocking. It's almost inconceivable to imagine the fictional tramp existing in the same world as the horrors of Nazi Germany. In earlier films, we never really feared for the tramp's safety; we always knew he'd figure some way out of trouble. But here, he's powerless. He must run away. He can't simply kick the policeman in the butt and scamper to victory. It's a subtle but important difference from his other films. His adversaries until now had been easily defeated heavies. But now he's up against something horrible and real. He's dragged across a street, beaten and almost hanged by stormtroopers. The word "Jew" is painted on the front of his shop. His home is burnt to the ground. He retains his humor, his hope and his will to fight, but he needs the world's help -- which is one of the movie's messages.
Chaplin's final speech, where he breaks character and vehemently decries fascism, hate and bigotry, has been called overwrought and schmaltzy. I disagree. I get goose bumps every time I hear it. As one of the interviewees on the DVD documentary states, "He said what had to be said." It's fascinating from a historical point of view. There are plenty of propaganda films from WWII (which is what this basically is when you boil down to it), but how many of them appeal to basic human decency instead of blunt patriotism?
One of the DVD extras is a documentary, THE TRAMP AND THE DICTATOR, produced by Turner Classic Movies. This is actually really good. Showing footage from the movie next to newsreels of Hitler just goes to demonstrate how spot-on Chaplin's impersonation was. Fascinating is the inclusion of excerpts from one of the worst Nazi propaganda films ("The Eternal Jew" -- a hateful piece of appalling racism) which features Chaplin's 1931 visit to Berlin and denouncing him in a series of racial epitaphs. The discussion as to the appropriateness of laughing about something evil as Hitler is touched on and the topic is worthy of debate.
Also included is some recently discovered color footage shot on the set of the film by Charlie's brother, Sydney. It's also included in its entirety as an extra, but it works better when excerpts are seen in the documentary. The footage by itself is relatively boring for most of the time; the documentary uses the most interesting material. On the other hand, I was amused by Sydney Chaplin's focusing in on seemingly every woman present during the filming of the ballroom dance scene.
The movie does have its weak points. The WWI portions are more silly than genuinely funny (though I've mellowed to the upside-down airplane gag the more times I've seen it). And although Jack Oakie's performance as a Mussolini-clone was inspired, one feels that the movie is biting off more than it can chew by including both dictators. As a result, some portions dealing with their relationship drags. So too does the whole Commander Schultz subplot. Additionally, a lot of the humor seems somewhat stuck between being silent and being talkie. But for all of the flaws, this is still an excellent movie that I appreciate it a little more on each viewing. Perhaps not the best Chaplin film, but it definitely has something to say. "
The genius of Chaplin.
D. Knouse | vancouver, washington United States | 04/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One look at Charlie Chaplin's filmography leaves little doubt as to his genius. I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy all his films, even the more obscure ones that weren't necessarily box office hits. But of all his films I believe "The Great Dictator" to be his masterpiece. "The Gold Rush" may have been the film in which he wanted to be remembered, and it is certainly a great film, but this film is working on so many levels as to seem superior to me. Sufficed to say, I love satire. This film is loaded with satirical referrences and subtle and not-so-subtle wit and clever word-play as well as all the brilliant physical humor that initially made Chaplin famous. There is so much intelligence in this film that it is easy for me to praise and recommend. I could relate scenes that I absolutely loved, but there are too many to name; and I certainly don't want to ruin all the comedic surprises for those who have yet to see this film. Even after ten viewings I find myself laughing at Chaplin's antics: verbal and physical humor of the highest level. In fact, I guarrantee laughter. There is so much humor here, of so many varieties, that there is no doubt in my mind that anyone viewing this film for the first time with giggle, chuckle, then laugh heartily. Oh, how I envy those first-time viewers. What a magnificent film! Hail Chaplin!"
Chaplin's crowning achievement!
Joe Comer | Robinson, IL United States | 05/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"One of the greatest satires ever filmed and Chaplin's most fully realized comedy. A beautiful blend of the usual Chaplin slapstick and pathos along with a very effective social and political commentary. Charlie is Adenoid Hynckle, dictator of an only slightly fictional country of Tomania. He also plays a Jewish ghetto barber. Both are played with such impeccable accuracy that to distinguish between them is extremely easy.Names are changed but this film is still the most effective film of Nazi Germany and Hitler's thankfully aborted attempt to take over the world. Chaplin's script never gets too preachy at least without an equal dose of satire. His approach is to make people laugh while teaching them at the same time. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his final monologue. After a predictable mistaken identity episode, Chaplin as the unnamed Jewish barber speaks of the horrors of Nazism. This climazes what may be the greatest performance in the history of comedy films. The greatest because it does more than simply make us laugh-it makes us think. The film earned Chaplin well deserved Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Screenplay and Actor. This is a film you must see."
Chaplin at His Best
D. Knouse | 11/27/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After avoiding talking films for almost a decade, legendary director, writer, producer, and actor Charlie Chaplin decided to finally take the plunge with this film. He didn't let anybody down. "The Great Dictator" is far and away Chaplin's best film. He gets to be the little tramp once again, now in the form of a kind Jewish barber, and make us laugh. However, as Adenoid Hynkel, the barbaric, Hitlerish dictator of Tomania, Chaplin provides us with amazing social commentary on a world that is rapidly forgeting love and kindness. That Chaplin can be so dramatic and so funny at the same time, while still being tasteful, is one of the things that make him such a genius. Of coarse, Chaplin is not the only person in the film. His real life wife, Paulette Goddard, is quite commendable as Hannah, and Jack Oakie is a riot as Benzini Nappoloni, the dictator of Bacteria. The movie ends with the Jewish barber making a speach on behalf of tolerence and understanding in a world gone mad. It's a moving and dramatic ending to one of the greatest movies ever made."
One of the reasons I love Charlie...
C. Johnson | Los Angeles, CA | 01/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Say what you like about this film: it's too preachy, it's not focused, it's this, it's that, say whatever you like.The facts, however, say it all. This film was made at a time when most of America was anti-semitic, when no one wanted to think of getting involved with Europe's affairs, and when Chaplin's own art of pantomime had been lost in the onslaught of 'talkies'. And for Chaplin to choose *this* premise for his farewell to the little Tramp-- turning his Tramp into a Jew and turning himself into Adolf Hitler-- well, it's nothing short of daring.For those that prefer Charlie as just the funny little fellow, and not his serious side, there's enough slapstick in this film to satisfy even them: the comedic highs are the moments when no words are needed-- the misplaced grenade, the dance with the globe, or the shaving scene to Brahm's Hungarian Dance. But the film IS at its best when Chaplin's Adenoid Hynkel is shown as a stark raving madman, and he with Jack Oakie's 'Napaloni' expose the true ridiculousness and lunacy of it all.Cynics have been known to call this film 'preachy', but as far as I'm concerned, it was awful gutsy of Chaplin to speak out on the issue-- and not just speak out, but to point a finger right in the face of Fascism and to charge it as a 'blunder' of humanity. For him to be *successful* in making us laugh on a subject that, in its essence, is not funny in the least really is a testimony to his abilities as an actor. His other films may be better than this one, and it's not my personal favorite of his work, BUT: **this** is the film that made Charlie a hero in my eyes. And that sort of passion for speaking out in what you believe deserves Five stars anyday!"