The Great Dictator: Review
The 1940’s film, The Great Dictator is a classic black and white film directed, written, and starring the most recognizable person in the world, the iconic Charlie Chaplin. The film is a political satire comedy poking fun at Hitler and the Nazi regime, but it is much more than that. It is considered one of the greatest political films of all time, holding a significant historical impact, and has within its dialogue what I suggest is undoubtedly the greatest movie speech of all time. Although the film is filled with slapstick comedy, it has deep and profound meaning that will resonate long after you finish watching it.
The film stars the silent film legend Charlie Chaplin playing the dual rolls of the goofy dictator of Tomania, Hynkel and a Jewish barber. The film takes place during the beginning of WWII and depicts the persecution of the Jews by Hynkel and his government. The character of Hynkel is in pursuit of a pure Aryan race and world domination. The dictator starts by persecuting the Jewish people of the country’s ghettos and he makes plans to invade a neighboring country. Meanwhile a Jewish barber who looks exactly like Hynkel (also played by Chaplin) is unwillingly thrown into a political fight for the Jewish people against the great dictator. Naturally, a case of mistaken identity is destined to occur, but in the mean time the main source of humor throughout the film is Chaplin’s trademark brand of physical comedy that still holds up with today’s audiences.
The film is a hilarious political masterpiece, filled with lovable and memorable characters. From the Jewish barber to even the evil Hynkel, there are no unlikable characters (from the point of view of amusing and ridiculous personalities, that is). Each scene holds the audience’s wrapped attention with Chaplin’s physical comedy and overall silliness. From the very beginning we are treated to a scene where the barber is operating an anti aircraft weapon and almost kills his commanding officers in the most impractical but hysterical way ever. Of course, this is a Chaplin film so; the humor doesn’t just come from the good guys but is greatly generated by the villains as well.
Now let’s make one thing clear, the evil Dictator Hynkel is about as intimidating as a puppy barking at a stranger from across the street. His character, however, believes himself to be an instrument of intimidation and forcefulness. Because of this contradiction, every scene Hynkel is in had me slapping my knee and trying to catch my breath throughout the whole film. Especially when Hynkel meets with another dictator and throughout their time together each tries to out do each other through comical signs of dominance and superiority. The scene might cause one to wonder if past or even current world leaders behave in such a way in front of one another.
Although it is a sensitive subject, the film does a great job in parodying the real life Nazi regime and dictator Adolf Hitler, while simultaneously respectfully portraying the Jewish people as intelligent and strong willed individuals in a time of severe persecution and harsh discrimination. Chaplin does a fantastic job in bringing the hilarious pompous dictator Hynkel to life, copying the real life mannerisms and appearance of Hitler, right down to his little mustache (an already established physical signature for the little tramp). Chaplin’s portrayal of the the humble and lovable Jewish barber is no less amazing in its perfection. Although the film is a political satire comedy, it has a deeper and more meaningful message, which is emphasized by the disparate differences between these two individuals.
Even though the film depicts a funny goofball, and comes with a happy ending, one must not forget the story behind it. The film was created in 1940, during the time of WWII right before the USA had joined the fight. At the time Hitler and the Nazi party had risen to power in Germany and had conquered most of Europe, all the while committing horrible acts against the Jewish people and humanity. It was a time of great controversy and turmoil for the whole world. Chaplin himself even mentioned if he had known more of the atrocities that the Nazi party was committing at concentration camps he would not have made the film out of respect for those who were suffering the most. Though the film did bring a lighthearted look of the era in which it was made, it also depicted the discrimination and persecution of the Jewish people. Because of this, it brought great awareness to the people of the US and other nations. It might have even helped in getting the US to participate in WWII. The film received a great response from audiences for its humor, political awareness, and what I consider the most beautiful speech ever given in a movie.
The best and most meaningful part of the film is at the end. When Hynkel and the Jewish barber get mistaken for one another and the Jewish barber is at the border of the country in which the Tomania empire is planning to invade. The barber as Hynkel is called upon to give a speech to rally the troops and instill fear into the hearts of the people who oppose him. But instead what happens next is something that instilled hope in me for all humanity. The barber gives a speech calling for the end of war and violence everywhere. He repents for being a dictator and gives a speech filled with love for one’s follow man, the power to unite, and to over come great obstacles and evil. This is probably the greatest speech ever given in film history. It has such meaning for a time when people had little hope. It gives everyone something to ponder at the end, hopefully leaving everyone with a feeling of love and hope.
The Great Dictator is a whimsical and incredible film. It’s hilarious and filled with memorable scenes and, yes, it is a feel good movie. It is definitely a film worth watching for its humor alone but it will guaranteed leave you with a sense of pride in being a human being and offer some hope for humanity. It is undeniably in my opinion Charlie Chaplin’s greatest film and it will go down as one of the greatest films ever made.