The Great Dictator (1940)

Written & Directed by Charles Chaplin

Believe it or not, this is the very first Charlie Chaplin film I have seen. And believe it or not, this is Charlie Chaplin’s first “talkie”. What amazes me the most about this picture, is that it was made and released before the United States entered World War II. The film opens with World War I and the Barber character fumbling around the battlefield. I loved these sequences because of the comedy of it all. The Barber then gets Amnesia, not unlike Chris in Return of the Soldier, which I also just read for my 20th Century British History class, and cannot recall anything when he returns home to the Ghetto in Tomainia. He returns home to find that the Jews have been confined and persecuted and this evil man Hynkel has taken control of the country, trying to raise an Aryan race.

The film, while being one of the most important social commentary films I have ever seen, is extremely funny as well. The parody upon Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler are remarkable. There are even a handful of scenes that have immediately gone to all time greats. The top of that list would be the Dictator of the World scene with the balloon globe. Everything about that scene is about perfect: the music, the tone, the acting, everything. A few others would be the pudding with the coins scene which just proves the silent, physical, comedic genius of Chaplin. I also really enjoyed when the Barber and Schultz were escaping to the roof, just hilarious stuff. It’s hard to imagine me saying this no more than about 6 months ago, but this is one of the best comedies I have ever seen.

The first half of the film was pure comedic genius. It does lose some steam in the second half, but that is only because it begins to get somewhat more serious and does a good job of handling the serious subject matters and dramatic moments in the film. By the end it was a masterpiece. Just like any other master of film, Chaplin is able to blend the genres and make it work smoothly and naturally into one great film. I really look forward to delving much deeper into the Chaplin catalog and discovering this man and perhaps Buster Keaton as well (possible future marathon for sure). As I said the social commentary is spectacular and comes to a head with the final speech with is so full of great rhetoric that it was exactly what the world needed to hear at the time. I mean how ridiculous is Hitler and the Nazis when we look back on it now. I guess at the time he was a great orator and the German people were in depression and just looking for a way out, but what the Nazis did was one of the greatest world atrocities known to man. I will probably enjoy revisiting this film as often as possible, and look out, it just might creep its way into my new Top 100, whenever it is I get around to doing that.

Commentary on Anti-Semitism

The theme seems to be obvious in all of these films that anti-Semitism is completely senseless and done without reason. What makes this film unique to my paper is that it is a comedy. Comedy is often a way of deflecting bad things, but in this case, we have one of the best social commentary films I have ever seen, especially pertinent given the time of its release. Of course it becomes even more interesting when you take into account the fact that the famous Hitler mustache is in fact the famous Chaplin mustache because he was such a fan of Charlie. So what we have here is the hero parodying the fan who has become one of histories most evil monsters. I also found great significance in the fact that the Barber and Hynkel were both played by Chaplin and eventually mistaken for each other. People are people and there is not much to distinguish them apart from titles and labels that we as humans seem to place on each other to differentiate us. But deep down we are all human, we are all a part of mankind. Any hatred and persecution is a bit ridiculous and nonsensical

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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