Top 100 Movie Review: No. 091 – The Great Dictator

Ranked 91 on the IMDB Top 100 Movies. Watched March 2018

Cast: Charles Chaplin (Hynkel – Dictator of Tomania / A Jewish Barber), Jack Oakie (Napaloni – Dictator of Bacteria), Reginald Gardiner (Schultz), Henry Daniell (Garbitsch), Billy Gilbert (Herring), Grace Hayle (Madame Napaloni), Carter DeHaven (Bacterian Ambassador), Paulette Goddard (Hannah), Maurice Moscovitch (Mr. Jaeckel), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Jaeckel)
Director: Charles Chaplin
My rating: 8.5 / 10

At the end of World War I, an Army private (Charlie Chaplin) who in civilian life is a little Jewish barber, saves the life of the German officer Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) as the two flee the conquering army. After their plane crashes during their escape, the Jewish barber suffers amnesia and is confined to a hospital during the rise of dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Charlie Chaplin).

Years later, the barber returns to his shop in the ghetto of a city, unaware that the state is now under the sign of the double cross, that Jews are cruelly persecuted, and that the all powerful ruler of the land is megalomaniac Adenoid Hynkel, to whom the barber bears a striking resemblance. The ghetto is now governed by Schultz under the fascist regime.

The barber tries to resist the treachery that he sees going on all around him, but is beaten and arrested with his friend Schultz, who saves the barber and speaks out against the persecution of the Jews. Schultz and the barber are sent to a prison camp, and Hynkel, his opposition quelled, plans the invasion of the neighboring country of Osterlich.

As Benzini Napaloni (Carter DeHaven), the Dictator of Bacteria, and Hynkel argue over control of Osterlich, Schultz and the barber escape from their prison. On the eve of the invasion of Osterlich, Hynkel is mistaken for the escaped barber and arrested. The barber then takes the place of the dictator on the parade platform and delivers an impassioned plea for human kindness and brotherly love.

What’s to Like
The surprising humour in a film with very heavy topics. Ironic and very funny ballet with an inflated balloon that makes the globe his plaything.

What’s not to Like

Despite being well into the ‘talkie’ period of films this was Chaplin’s first true sound film after his excellent silent film career. Chaplin plays both leading roles: a ruthless fascist dictator and a persecuted Jewish barber. This film was also made before the USA entered World War II but made clear targets in Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and fascism.

This is the speech Chaplin gives in the film which is aimed at the real world:

You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power; let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

A powerful speech indeed.

Apparently Chaplin decided to make The Great Dictator after seeing the Nazis film Triumph of the Will. He used this film to inspire many elements of The Great Dictator, to closely mimic Hitler’s mannerisms and counter the Nazis film’s propaganda.

The lead up to the final moving speech is comedy in a worrying situation but the movie stops dead and moves to the final speech, there is no comedy anymore. Chaplin financed this film to be able to make that final speech, he reeled in the audience with comedy in order to be able to provide a meaningful message to the audience. Chaplin understood how films could influence the public and this was his attempt after seeing the Nazis films but instead of glory and victories he used humour.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Charles Chaplin) – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Oakie) – nominee
  • Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Charles Chaplin) – nominee
  • Best Music, Original Score (Meredith Willson) – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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