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From a review by Roger Ebert:
Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (1940) came some 12 years after the introduction of sound, but
it was Chaplin's first all-talking picture, and the first in which we heard the Little Tramp speak. The
dialogue turned out to be his last words; Chaplin never used the Tramp character again after this film.
In a way, the Tramp's heartfelt closing plea for peace and human brotherhood is spoken by Chaplin
himself, stepping out of character to make a personal statement on the eve of the war with Hitler. The
speech does not fit into the fabric of the rest of the film (as many critics noted
at the time), but the passage of years has made it seem uncannily appropriate.
Chaplin conceived and filmed "The Great Dictator" during a period when an
accommodation with Hitler was still thought possible in some quarters; indeed,
he must have been filming when Neville Chamberlain went to Munich. But
Chaplin himself had no such optimism, and his portrait of Adenoid Hynkel,
dictator of Tomania, was among the first declarations of war on Hitler. The film
also prophesied the persecution of the Jews, and the scenes of storm troopers
terrorizing the Ghetto were thought at the time to go too far. What a sad joke
that seems today.
The film itself is filled with sad, pathetic little jokes; this is Chaplin's most serious, most tragic, most
human work. He did not find Hitler at all funny, needless to say, and so although he uses his own comic
genius to inspire the movie, the comedy is never neutral. It is jugular, as he creates a Hynkel who is a
vain, strutting buffoon, given to egomaniacal rages and ridiculous posturing. Charlie never for a moment
allows us to laugh with Hynkel, but only at him, and Hynkel thus becomes the only totally unsympathetic
character Chaplin has ever played. To balance him, Chaplin also plays the part of a Jewish barber who
happens to be Hynkel's exact double (and who also happens to look exactly like the Little Tramp).
There are some good belly laughs in the movie,
most of them involving a state visit by Belzoni
Napoloni, dictator of the neighbouring nation of
Bacteria. As played by Jack Oakie, Napoloni is a
loud, cheerful, idiotic clown whose natural zest for
a good time cuts right through Hynkel's phoney
It's during the Oakie scenes that we get many of
the film's most famous comedy moments: the futile
attempt to seat Napoloni on a very low chair, so
Hynkel can tower over him; the negotiations during
the banquet, when Hynkel says he will destroy his enemies just like this (and attempts to rip apart a
handful of spaghetti, but can't), and of course the classic barber-chair scene, in which each dictator tries
to pump himself higher than the other.
There are also immortal moments of Chaplin pantomime. He shaves a customer in time to classic
music. As the Jewish barber, dressed in the stolen uniform
of the dictator, he nonchalantly reviews "his" troops and
then sits in a folding chair that collapses, causing
complete confusion. And, as the dictator, he does the
famous ballet with the world globe painted on a balloon.
Glenn Abel, The Hollywood Reporter:
Charles Chaplin had a problem with authority.
Policemen, bosses, bureaucrats -- the powerful and the
pompous all had it coming. The Little Tramp usually had
his way with them all before the lights came up.
In 1938, with the winds of war swirling in Europe,
Chaplin took on his biggest target -- the swaggering
former tramp from Austria who lorded over Germany and
its Nazi Party. The satire would be called "The Great Dictator."
It seemed, at the time, a fair fight. The most popular man in the world vs. Adolph Hitler, leader of a
reeling nation. Just two years before, in "Modern Times," Chaplin had tackled capitalism as personified
by Henry Ford, a union-busting admirer of Hitler. Chaplin's weapon of choice was comedy, and it was
"A comic David had arisen to fight Goliath," film critic Stanley Kauffmann
recalls thinking, joyously, at the time. Today, Charles Chaplin the man
remains as closely linked to his leftist politics as Charlie Chaplin the
comedian is to his derby hat, cane and moustache.
Nazi propagandists attacked Chaplin, saying he was Jewish (he wasn't, but
he refused to deny the claim). Chaplin's homeland, Britain, vowed to ban the
upcoming film, hoping not to anger Hitler. Chaplin was under pressure in his
adopted home of the United States not to
make the film, which he would have to
finance himself via United Artists. Chaplin
pressed ahead after a message of support came from President Franklin
D. Roosevelt himself.
The film remains controversial to this day. Some historians have
criticized the movie's mix of humour and real-life horror. That appears to
be a minority view. "Comedy is the greatest way to attack anything like a
totalitarian regime -- they can't stand it," author Ray Bradbury says.
Chaplin played two roles: the ridiculous-but-deadly dictator Adenoid
Hynkel (Hitler) and a Jewish barber who was a dead-ringer for the
despot. Actor Jack Oakie turns up as a buffoonish Mussolini.
Although the film was banned in many parts of Europe, it became
Chaplin's biggest box-office success. (The tagline was "The world laughs
again.") Wartime records showed that Hitler saw the film not once, but
Chaplin himself had doubts about the film and almost withheld it from
release when Hitler invaded France. Had he known the extent of the Nazis' evil, Chaplin said later, he
never would have made The Great Dictator.
Wikipedia: The film stars Chaplin as Hynkel and the barber, Paulette Goddard as Hannah, Jack
Oakie as Napaloni, Reginald Gardiner as Schultz, Henry Daniell as Garbitsch and Billy Gilbert as
Field Marshal Herring, an
incompetent advisor to Hynkel.
Chaplin stars in a double role as the
Jewish barber (the Tramp in all but
name) and the fascist dictator,
clearly modeled on Adolf Hitler.
The names of the aides of Adenoid
Hynkel are similar to those of Hitler.
Garbitsch (pronounced "garbage"),
the right hand man of Hynkel is very
similar to that of Joseph Goebbels
and Field Marshal Herring was clearly
modelled after the Luftwaffe chief,
Hermann Goering while beyond
doubt the "Diggaditchie" of Bacteria,
Benzino Napaloni, was modeled after
Il Duce, Benito Mussolini.
Much of the film is taken up by
Hynkel and Napaloni arguing over
the fate of Osterlich. Originally,
Mussolini was opposed to the
German takeover since he saw Austria as a buffer-state between Germany and Italy. This conflict is
almost forgotten today given Italy's support for Germany during World War II.