The Great Dictator (1940)
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Over-long, at times heavy-handed, it still has many wonderful sequences, including the famous dance with the globe, and all the scenes of Chaplin with Jack Oakie, each trying to out-do the other and prove his superiority.
One criticism that seems to occasionally rear its head is the implication that Chaplin's pre-World War II anti-fascism was somehow wrong-headed. The atrocities of the Holocaust weren't fully known to the world yet, so Chaplin's anti-Hitler diatribe is, in the minds of some, misguided. After the war this mindset would result in the debacle of the blacklist, when Chaplin, among others, were branded "pre-mature anti-fascists." In other words, it wasn't politically acceptable to be against Nazism until war broke out with the U.S. Hard to believe anyone could still see things that way now, but some do.
The film industry of the 1930s wanted no part of international politics, no matter how blatant the brutality of a given regime. Profits were at stake. It was little goyisha Charley Chaplin, playing a Jewish barber, who took a public stand.
While "The Great Dictator" may not among Chaplin's finest films, it may, historically, be his finest hour.
In one of the extraordinary scenes of Chaplin art, Hynkel performs a ballet with the 'world' which bursts when he thinks he has it in his grasp...
Chaplin also has some biting words on war and war films... In a scene at the beginning of the movie, which takes place during World War I, the Tomanian messenger crashes the plane and thinks... He is about to die... In a state of delirium, he begins to say ridiculous words... The empty double-talk continue ascending into a brilliant take off on all the heroic death scenes of War films...
In another scene when he becomes a fugitive in the Jewish ghetto and assumes command of the resistance fomenting rebellion among the old men, he plans to kill the dictator... One of the group must kill the ruthless conqueror of Austerlich... Whoever is chosen will naturally die, but his heroic death will be rewarded and his name will shine like a star in Tomanian history...
The sequence in which he and four other characters eat cream cakes containing coins to determine which shall sacrifice his life to murder the dictator is a bitter hilarity filled with great fear...
For all its disappointing shortcomings, "The Great Dictator" is still a significant movie for the ironic tones of the film adding something that neither Chaplin nor anymore else could have given it: the irony of history... The necessity to murder Hynkel presages the assassination attempt against Hitler by his generals... The force of the original satire is only surpassed by history's imitation of art...
With a splendid sequence like the duck-shooting accident which leads to the dictator being mistaken for the humbly Jewish barber and vice versa, "The Great Dictator" is Chaplin's first talking movie... This time 'Charles' and not 'Charlie,' wanting to say more through his movie and not through an amusing comedy, the last in which he uses his celebrated 'Tramp Character.'
This film is hilarious, poignant and tragic. The tragedy is that Chaplin makes a plea for the madness to end, but it is already to late - for him and for us. A must see if you have any interest whatsoever in history, film-making, politics or sattire as an art-form.
Production on the movie started in 1937 and shot in 539 days when not nearly as many people believed Nazism was a menace , as was the case when it was released in 1940 ; however , this film was ultimately upstaged as the first anti-Nazi film satire . Hitler banned movie exhibition to the Germans due to its satire of him , and put him in his death list after his proposed conquest of America . The movie is co-starred by Paulette Goddard , third of his four wives , they were married in 1936 , although no announcement of the marriage was made later, one time finished The Great Dictator . The picture was released in 1940 , when Chaplin had survived a moral scandal by a paternity suit but a brush with the House of Un-American Activities was the signal for the USA to refuse him re-entry from Britain and he fled to Switzerland . This movie was Charles Chaplin's biggest-ever box-office hit , grossing about $5 million at the time.
Beside this ,from my point of view the movie's best part is the superb speech by the Jewish Barber ,a speech's thoughts that if would existed a little bit in Hitler's mind too it would had a chance for the world too pas a second world war.
The Speech: "I'm sorry but I don't want to be an emperor.
That's not my business.
I don't want to rule or conquer anyone.
I should like to help everyone: Jew, gentile, black man, white.
We all want to help one another.
Human beings are like that.
We want to live by each other's happiness, not misery.
We don't want to hate one another.
In this world, the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.
The way of life can be free and beautiful but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men's souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into bloodshed.
We have developed speed but have shut ourselves in.
Machinery has left us in want.
Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness, hard and unkind.
We think too much and feel too little.
More than machinery we need humanity.
More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.
Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost...
The airplane and radio have brought us closer.
These inventions cry out for the goodness in man, cry out for universal brotherhood, for the unity of us all.
Even now my voice is reaching millions, millions of despairing men, women and children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me I say, do not despair.
The misery upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.
The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took will return to the people.
So long as men die liberty will never perish.
Soldiers, don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you, regiment your lives, tell you what to think and feel, who drill you, treat you like cattle and use you as cannon fodder.
Don't give yourselves to these men, machine men with machine minds and machine hearts.
You are not machines, you are not cattle, you are men! You have the love of humanity in you.
Don't hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural hate.
Soldiers, don't fight for slavery, fight for liberty! St Luke says, "The Kingdom of God is within man." Not in one man nor a group of men, but in all men. In you! You have the power to create machines, the power to create happiness.
You have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
In the name of democracy, let us use that power.
Let us all unite, let us fight for a new world, a world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age security.
Promising these things, brutes have risen.
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 the happiness of all.
Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us unite!"
There are two reasons to like "The Great Dictator." One is that Chaplin was on the side of the angels, at no small risk given his target's ambitions. The other is he didn't forget to make it funny.
Essentially a Prince And The Pauper remake, "Dictator" presents Chaplin as both Adenoid Hynkel, the cruel if inept "Phooey" (a. k. a. "Führer") of Tomainia, and a Jewish World War I veteran, poignantly left unnamed as a nod to the Common Man, who only wants to work in peace at his barber shop. While Hynkel struggles with his two great passions, hating Jews and loving war, the barber finds love and a cause to believe in.
The comedy here can be categorized into the great and the good, with most of the former featuring Chaplin as Hynkel. He's simply much funnier here as the bad guy, whether playing it broad (jumping secretaries, delivering speeches in hate-choked gobbledegook) or subtle (after shooting dead a man who claims to have "perfected" a bullet-proof suit, Hynkel simply turns and walks away with a three-word critique: "Far from perfect.")
Hynkel is a character who solves Chaplin's legendary problem with sound, whether dressing down his blubbering subordinate Herring (Billy Gilbert) or struggling to keep his composure when fellow dictator Napaloni (Jack Oakie) rebuffs his attempts at intimidation. Told by his right-hand man Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) that the people are objecting to sawdust in the bread, he huffs: "What more do they want? It's from the finest lumber our mills can supply!"
The comedy around the barber gets more labored. Maybe it's because much of it turns on the oppression of the Jews, though Chaplin here is trying to establish them as underdogs and rooting interest. It's here the film becomes tricky, not because he is mocking the unmockable but because the characters we meet, including the Barber, are fairly bland and the humor patchy. There is some very funny material here, but excessive bits too where people get klonked with pans or splattered with whitewash. At least Chaplin avoided setting a pie fight in a starving ghetto.
The famous last scene is a great divider for many; in it Chaplin steps out of character to address us the audience about...what? The world needs more love and less hate, I guess. It's a philosophically strangled message, both anti-fascist and oddly pacifistic at a time when Hitler's legions were swallowing Europe, with Chaplin warning of "machine men with machine minds" as if he was still making "Modern Times" and punching the sky at times for lame effect.
To me it's a crass way to end a good comedy, if perhaps necessary given the stakes involved. Hitler was real, and calling him out for what he was had real value in terms of rallying those called upon to defeat him. If it doesn't transcend time as well as it could, "The Great Dictator" is still a fine comedy that delivers strong laughs and stronger historical resonances.
If rumours are to be believed, Hitler had him placed at the top of his death list after this film's release – now that's street cred. We first see Adenoid Hynkel addressing the German (Tomanian) nation, giving a speech that involves much arm-saluting, nonsense English that makes use of the phrase "sour kraut" and his more embittered rages descending into coughing fits. "His excellency has just referred to the Jewish people", informs an announcer after a rage-filled moment that causes microphones to bend and quiver in fear. His first German-language dictates to his minister of war (Herring) involve "banana" and "cheeseuncrackerz". Look out too for instructions to his Minister of Interiors, Garbitsch.
I've never really gotten into Charlie (always credited as Charles) Chaplin, as I find his innocent sentimentality a little hard to get to grips with in today's society. W.C.Fields, and, to an extent, Harold Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy can still entertain, as they have something of the attitude, or edge, that Chaplin lacks. Ironically, it's modern times that mean we now find it hard to fully appreciate Modern Times. However, dialogue and a harsher undercurrent – including a Jewish barber (Chaplin, again) being hung from a lamppost mean that even today The Great Dictator is relevant.
There are some nice silly jokes, such as the barber, confronted by a Stormtrooper, being told: "and I thought you were an Arian". "Well, I'm a veget – arian", replies Chaplin, trying to fit in. Many jokes – such as Hynkel making a long speech and his secretary typing up just a couple of words; then saying just a couple of words only for her to translate it into paragraphs – were originated here and have been repeated countless times in other places. Some of the most amusing slapstick is when Hynkel meets fellow dictator Mussolini (Napaloni), and tries to impress him by having the greater psychological perspective in all their meetings. In a gag much honoured by Bugs Bunny, the two crank themselves up to ever-greater heights on barber's chairs.
Elsewhere, the film also has a grand scale, with ceilings on sets and news reports propelling the narrative – you know, the sort of thing Citizen Kane was so highly praised for the following year. If there's a fault with this film then it's not so much with the sentimental, whiter-than-white Jewish population, but with Chaplin's interpretation of Hynkel. Although he gets all the best jokes and scenes, he's simply too likable to really convey the threat Chaplin was trying to stop. Nevertheless, this is forgotten as the ending gives us the Jewish barber taking Hynkel's place, and Chaplin making an impassioned, three-minute speech in the name of freedom.
Charles Chaplin played two roles in this movie, wrote, directed, produced and, uncredited, composed original music for it. To claim it changed the world is an overstatement. America still had a good opinion of Hitler at the time, and, after it was released... they still had a good opinion of Hitler. It was still some time before they would even enter the second world war, and with the final speech being adopted for Communist pamphlets in England, this only caused Chaplin troubles when it came to the McCarthy witch trials. There's a sense that Chaplin isn't the master in the field of talkies, and that his use of mime was beginning to date. History was overtaking him, but The Great Dictator still stands as one of the most personal, and risk-taking films ever put on celluloid.
Postscript, April 2012: I've since watched all of Chaplin's features and every short. So, I was talking rubbish when I said twelve years ago that he didn't have modern appeal. Sorry about that. However, I stand by most of the review, even if "Chaplin on Hitler's death list" is a "fact" I've only read in Trivial Pursuits. Oh, look out for the documentary that's included on the DVD - "The Tramp and the Dictator" - well worth seeing, as well as Chaplin's extensive thoughts on this film and its aftermath in his 1964 autobiography.
One must remember that when this was started, Hitler was generally admired in the US and essentially no one at all was standing up for the Jews. (In the film: `first we get the Jews, and then the brunettes.')
I think he succeeds so far as the talkie, but he doesn't stand at the top of the heap, and several years before, the Marx brothers had made their own, superior, antiwar movie (Duck Soup). He succeeds in mixing comedy and tragedy only by alternating, and extending the length of the film.
Concerning his effectiveness in countering evil: his impassioned speech at the end is powerful. But it appears to have had no effect whatsoever. This is the man that McCarthy and friends drove from the US! I think one of his mistakes was portraying the pogrom and invasions as the work of one man, rather than of a whole nation: Germans, not Nazis.
Charlie Chaplin is simply outstanding in this in what was his first spoken film. He shines in both of his roles as dictator Hynkel and the Jewish barber. Chaplin's speech at the end, which is very much HIS speech even though he's playing a character, is a piece of cinema I will never forget. Such a powerful, moving and compelling speech that remains relevant even today.
Making a comedy out of such a tragedy is risky business, but Chaplin's anti-fascist message ensured it wasn't taken the wrong way. 'The Great Dictator' is a hilarious but meaningful and powerful film. A brilliant piece of cinema.
Indeed, there is a heavy handedness about much of the story's pace and direction. It almost seems as though Chaplin told his actors to play against his comedy by keeping a sober straight face uppermost in mind--watch how Henry Daniell and Reginald Gardiner play their parts with that stiff upper lip approach. An exception is Jack Oakie as Napaloni, doing a brilliant take-off on Mussolini. As a poor Jewish waif, Paulette Goddard shows all the vivaciousness that made her a star in subsequent films throughout the '40s. She adds warmth to all of her scenes with Chaplin.
Some of the gags are carried on at too great a length, outlasting their comic value. And criticism can be made of some of the sequences played against fake scenery when obviously a good deal of money was spent on the main sets. The station scene featuring Napaloni's arrival is staged on an obviously fake studio set where the painted scenery stands out like a sore thumb. Jack Oakie got his only Supporting Role Oscar nomination for this one and Chaplin won a Best Actor nomination.
Whatever the shortcomings, it does manage to keep afloat with some very amusing sequences. Chaplin deserves credit for even attempting such a satire--especially considering this was near the outbreak of the U.S. entry into war. His scene with the globe shows off his rare comic timing.
A final note: the six minute speech at the end seems improbable coming from the timid Jewish barber and strikes a false note because it's so out of character. Obviously, Chaplin intended it to give the film a personal message of hope.
Finally, the whole of the Great Dictator. Well, to be honest, it had its moments, both of comedy and of drama. But these moments don't always mix well. Chaplin's comedy worked well when mixed with melodrama (City Lights is the best example of this), but it didn't always work with social commentary. Plus, the fact that there was dialogue lessened the impressiveness of Chaplin's talent. Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie as a whole, but I thought it of little consequence. I would have given it a solid 7/10 on the ratings scale...if not for the ending. The final speech that the Jewish barber gives is enormously powerful. Yes, it is adressed to the tempora et mores of 1940, but his message is perfectly applicable to the world today. The speech brought me to tears, and I consider it one of the best endings I've ever seen. Final score: 8/10.
As for the aggression against Jews in the film, one might expect Chaplin to turn the scenes into something similar to chase scenes from his silent films. Modern films, on the other hand, tend to develop the victims in the film well enough so we can feel some connection. In other words, I would expect to feel the need to either laugh or cry if Chaplin were to depict this kind of situation. Unfortunately scenes are more uncomfortable to watch than they are compelling.
Perhaps this film is highly regarded for what it stands for, but as a fan of Chaplin's silent films, as well as a huge fan of comedic talkies from this era, I felt highly disappointed and nearly fell asleep watching the film.
Many of the early scenes in The Great Dictator seem to prove Chaplin's fears about sound film. The slapstick has lost its flow, looking forced and awkward. And it appears Chaplin has no real idea how to write or direct dialogue. Sometimes characters make some banal little comment on the action as if simply to fill up the silence. Even worse things happen when Chaplin attempts verbal humour, resorting to feeble puns like the one about the gas keeping him awake all night (not that puns are necessarily bad, just that Chaplin isn't very good at them). Above all, the visual and verbal business is poorly integrated, with a badly-timed stop-start feel. It makes it particularly jarring after a dialogue scene to see this ageing version of the little tramp doing some of his old moves, such as teetering on one foot as he runs into a squad of stormtroopers. These scenes are unlikely to raise more than a titter, and are a sad testament to the fact that this familiar character was past his prime and out of time.
But this is a tale of two Charlies. For the first time in decades Chaplin creates a new character for himself in dictator Adenoid Hynkel. And the great thing about Hynkel is that he sidesteps Chaplin's inability with comedy in words but still makes use of comedy in sound. The dictator's cod-Germanic speech is part silly-voice, part linguistic nonsense and it is very, very funny. It actually adds to the humour that no-one else in the picture speaks it, and that Hynkel mostly lapses into it in moments of anger, as if it was some involuntary anxiety-driven affectation. The other great thing about Hynkel is that he is one of Chaplin's great works of satire. The nonsense language is of course a lampooning of Hitler's forceful speechmaking, but the parody continues through everything Hynkel does. Take for example when he has finished posing with the baby, and rather disgustedly wipes his hand clean. He does it with the same stiff-faced disdain that Hitler always displayed in public, but the character's puffed-up austerity is also being punctured by the fact that he's just got his hand covered in wee wee. The little tramp, a creation of and for the silent era, could not make the transition to sound. But Hynkel is a creation of and for the sound era, and he works fantastically.
As the picture unfolds, it begins to gain maturity and clarity, not to mention comic brilliance. Jack Oakie's Napoloni makes a perfect partner for Hynkel, and their antics together are like the Marx Brothers at their most riotous. Napoloni is also a work of satire equal to Hynkel, with Oakie working in many of Mussolini's less dignified mannerisms, such as curling his lip and bulging his eyes like he's trying to squeeze out a fart. While Chaplin's direction is at its most overt and showy, he also cleverly and subtly gears his compositions towards ridicule, making the most of those tall set designs to show off the dictator as some little twerp. And finally, the picture acquires the poignancy that made Chaplin's silent features stand out, this time with an extra bite in the seriousness of its message. It is then that you realise Chaplin knew his little tramp was finished, and yet that he needed him here to deliver his point. By subjecting him to sound, Chaplin sacrifices his alter-ego, making a means to speak his mind to the public who had loved him.
Okay, so it gets a lot of praise for being the first film to wage war, even long before we entered the war. Nope. Not true. Simply not true, so that praise can be turned down a bit. The Three Stooges did it on January 19, 1940 with "You Natzy Spy" - ten months earlier than the October release of Chaplin's film - and that movie was actually funny! If you want to watch Chaplin's greatest film, watch this only for reference. And then pop in "Modern Times", "Gold Rush", "City Lights", "Limelight", "The Kid", or even "Tillie's Punctured Romance".
More disappointingly, the movie is just clunky; it's as if Chaplin had no idea that movies had progressed in sophistication since the silent era. The set pieces, those involving both the Jewish Barber and the Dictator, don't flow into each other; they just sit there like discrete lumps of storyline that progress in fits and starts, moving SOMEWHERE but never arriving at resolution. Some are funny, some less so.
What charm the movie has is strictly in the person of Chaplin himself. His parodies of Hitler's speeches were the best part of the whole thing, and there's no denying that he had a physical grace that was delightful to watch. But virtually everything he surrounded himself with was ANNOYING. Hannah was TOO DAMN American. The Storm Troopers were TOO DAMN American.
Oooh! Oooh! One more thing! I don't know what purpose was served by having Garbage be the source of evil behind the throne. It almost seems like the film is saying that, if it weren't for malign influences like Garbage, Hynckle wouldn't have been that bad a guy.
TGD still uses quite a bit of physical humor and it all works well. TGD is a scathing indictment of fascism in Europe, ending as it does with a phenomenal and hair raising speech, spoken out of character, where Chaplin addresses himself to all of humanity. It is also a sad, shocking and disturbing drama filled with bits of humor that are as dark as Chaplin knew how to express.
Consider his physical humor for a moment. In the early part of the film when the plane crashes, Chaplin emerges from complete submersion in a huge pile of wet mud. His entire head is enveloped in mud as he pops his eyes open - I really don't know how he did that without blinding himself. The scene is incredible and although it lasts for a few moments, it shows to what extremes he was willing to go to produce a laugh. Consider the scene in the ghetto where his lady friend, in trying to help him, accidentally bops him quite hard on the head with a frying pan.
In his depiction of the Hitler-like leader, Hinckle, there is one scene that must go down as one of the most breathtaking and marvelous in all movie history. It comes when he is alone in his room and plays with a huge inflatable globe of the world, bouncing it up and down, catching it and bouncing it sometimes off his rear end. The symmetry of his movements as lithe as anything a top ballet dancer could have done. The scene lingers in the mind, having deeper meaning than the surface action. Chaplin was blessed with a deep insight into people and this film shows him at his razor sharpest.
Another reason this film is so important: in a time when almost all of the world had turned it's back on the racial genocide that Nazi Germany was perpetrating on Europe's Jews, Chaplin knew of it and was convinced that something brave must be said about it. Where almost no one, certainly in Hollywood, thought it important to say that the Jews were getting massacred, Chaplin brought the Jewish focus front and center and miraculously, in a funny sort of way. Even though the rest of the world was to discover after the war that the destruction of Jews was far more sinister and horrific than this film implies, at least Chaplin stood up and shouted about it.
This is a brave, moving, brilliant, scathing, insightful, compassionate and raucous movie. Chaplin's portrayal of Hinckle, where he moves in and out of a Germanic accent, shows that a great silent film actor could move quite successfully into the talking movies. His Hitlerian rants were often so similar to Hitler's own that it was amazing to see that Chaplin could be vocal mimic as well. A complex film that holds up very well. A must see for all Chaplin fans.