Movie Name: The Great Dictator
Studio: Charles Chaplin Film
Release Date(s): October 15, 1940 (Premiere)/December 16, 1940 (UK)/March 7, 1941 (US)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Tomainia has fallen in the War in 1918 and a barber (Charlie Chaplin) has lost his memories after a plane crash as the war ended. Returning to his home in Tomainia in 1938, he finds it a changed place. Now under the rule of Adenoid Hynkel (Charlie Chaplin), Tomainia is poised on the brink of war again. Delegated to live in the ghettos as Jew, the barber and his new friend Hannah (Paulette Goddard) find safety in protection from the barber’s wartime friend Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). When Schultz also becomes the target of Hynkel, the barber finds himself a prisoner in his own country.
Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator is a political comedy which was meant to draw attention to the actions occurring in Germany. The film was critically acclaimed and highly successful. The movie received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Chaplin), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Oakie), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Original Score.
I honestly hadn’t seen much Charlie Chaplin until recently. Feeling I should hit on his big movies, The Great Dictator was of course near the top of the list (it is his biggest money making film). I always imagine Chaplin’s silent films it is odd to see him in a talking picture and the subject matter of the movie doesn’t necessarily lend itself to satire since we all know how World War II turned out. Despite this, The Great Dictator is a great film and possibly almost as relevant today as it was then.
The plot for the movie is slightly unbalanced in the humor by modify The Prince and the Pauper type story. It is a comedy-drama with very little mixing of the two genres within the film. The movie will go from complete jokes to very serious moments involving prison camps and civil liberties. Chaplin himself claimed he couldn’t have made the film if he knew the truth about what was occurring in concentration camps. The movie is rounded out by a fantastic speech by Chaplin which remains very inspiring…and still feels topical today with events occurring the world and the U.S.
Chaplin is great in his dual role. It has been said that the barber character isn’t his Tramp character but he does resemble him. Most of Chaplin’s scenes as Hynkel are the real scene grabbers as he speaks in Hitler’s tones and plays up his maniacal nature. Paulette Goddard also has some very nice moments as a sort of romantic interest for the barber especially near the end when you see how she is inspired. Jack Oakie also is a scene stealer in the film as the thinly-veiled equivalent to Mussolini who Chaplin’s character is desperately trying to impress.
The movie has some great iconic moments. Chaplin has some slapstick scenes but it is more the subtle scenes that work. The dancing with the globe balloon is particularly well done as well as any of his speech scenes which show the power of words…something that Hitler did really understand and abuse.
The Great Dictator sadly feels topical. Things haven’t changed enough from 1940 since civil liberties still is a discussion and people are killing each other around the world instead of working toward a greater good. Hitler loved Chaplin as an actor and allegedly saw the movie twice (it was banned in Germany but he had a private copy). It is unknown what he thought of it, but I can’t imagine it feels good to have a favorite actor lampoon you and expose you as a shallow, insecure joke…unfortunately, Hitler didn’t take the last speech of the movie to heart and the horrors of World War II rolled on.