The Great Dictator, starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner, Henry Daniell, Billy Gilbert
The Great Dictator is possibly the most well-known of Charlie Chaplin’s films. It was a timely satire on Nazism and fascism in general, and Adolph Hitler in particular. In it, Charlie Chaplin plays a double role: Adenoid Hynkel, autocratic dictator of Tomania who blames the Jewish people for all of society’s ills. And a Jewish Barber who happens to be the spitting image of Hynkel.Contrary to what some people believe, the Jewish Barber was not Chaplin’s world-famous tramp character, although they clearly share some of the same traits. The film is a true classic, with the famous “dance with the globe”. Where Hynkel dances with an oversized inflated image of the globe, fantasizing about his eventual conquests. The film ends with the famous “Look Up, Hannah” speech which is, perhaps, both verbose and even hokey, but it fits properly and plays well.
I rate it 4 clowns on a 5-clown scale.
Editorial review of The Great Dictator, starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jackie Oakie, Billy Gilbert, courtesy of Amazon.com
Since Adolf Hitler had the audacity to borrow his mustache from the most famous celebrity in the world – Charlie Chaplin – it meant Hitler was fair game for Chaplinâs comedy. (Strangely, the two men were born within four days of each other.) The Great Dictator, conceived in the late thirties but not released until 1940, when Hitler’s war was raging across Europe, is the film that skewered the tyrant. Chaplin plays both Adenoid Hynkel, the power-mad ruler of Tomania, and a humble Jewish barber suffering under the dictator’s rule. Paulette Goddard, Chaplin’s wife at the time, plays the barber’s beloved; and the rotund comedian Jack Oakie turns in a weirdly accurate burlesque of Mussolini, as a bellowing fellow dictator named Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria.
Chaplin himself hits one of his highest moments in the amazing sequence where he performs a dance of love with a large inflated globe of the world. Never has the hunger for world domination been more rhapsodically expressed. The slapstick is swift and sharp, but it was not enough for Chaplin. He ends the film with the barber’s six-minute speech calling for peace and prophesying a hopeful future for troubled mankind. Some critics have always felt the monologue was out of place, but the lyricism and sheer humanity of it are still stirring. This was the last appearance of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character, and not coincidentally it was his first all-talking picture. –Robert Horton
- Charlie Chaplin got the idea when a friend, Alexander Korda, noted that his screen persona and Adolf Hitler looked similar. Chaplin later learned they were both born within a week of each other. They were roughly the same height and weight. Both struggled in poverty until they reached success in their respective fields.
- Charlie Chaplin stated that had he known the true extent of the Nazi atrocities, he “could not have made fun of their homicidal insanity.”
- Production on the film started in 1937 when not nearly as many people believed Nazism was a menace as was the case when it was released in 1940.
- The German spoken by the dictator is complete nonsense. The language in which the shop signs, posters, etc in the “Jewish” quarter are written is Esperanto. A language created in 1887 by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish Jew.
- When The Great Dictator was released, Hitler had it banned from all occupied countries. Curiosity eventually got the best of him and he had a print brought in through Portugal. He screened it not once, but TWICE! Unfortunately, history did not record his reaction to the film. When told of this, Charlie Chaplin stated, “I’d give anything to know what he thought of it.”
- Although this movie was banned in all occupied countries by the Nazis, it was screened once to a German audience. In the occupied Balkan, members of a resistance group switched the reels in a military cinema. They replaced a comedic opera by a copy of The Great Dictator which they received from Greece. So a group of German soldiers enjoyed a screening of The Great Dictator. Some left the cinema after they recognized it and some were even reported to shoot at the screen.
- This was the last movie in which Chaplin used the “Tramp”-Outfit, i.e. the bowler hat and the walking cane, but although Chaplin appears to be playing The Tramp once again, that character had actually been retired in his previous film, Modern Times (1936). Chaplin was said not to consider Great Dictator a Tramp film.
- Released 13 years after the end of the Silent era, this was Chaplin’s first all-talking, all-sound film.
- Chaplin began to feel more uncomfortable lampooning Hitler the more he heard of Hitler’s actions in Europe. Ultimately, the invasion of France inspired Chaplin to change the ending of his film to include his famous speech.
- Color behind-the-scenes footage exists, including the only footage of an aborted ending in which soldiers break into a folk dance.
- The scene where Chaplin dances with a globe came from a 1928 home movie where Chaplin also toyed with a globe.
- In Spain, the film was banned until dictator Francisco Franco died, in 1975.
- Chaplin said wearing Hynkel’s costume made him feel more aggressive. Those close to him remember him being more difficult to work with on days he was shooting as Hynkel.
- Chaplin named Paulette Goddard’s character after his mother, Hannah Chaplin.
- The ‘Big Bertha’ artillery piece mentioned in the beginning of the film was not actually used to shell Paris. The large howitzer used to shell Paris by the Germans during WWI was simply called “The Paris Gun”.
- Chaplin accepted an invitation to perform the movie’s climactic speech on national radio.
- This is the first Charlie Chaplin film since Behind the Screen (1916) in which Chaplin plays a character who is actually identified by name. His famous Tramp character was rarely given a name, though he was often referred to as Charlie. The tramp-like barber in this film remains unnamed, but the Dictator is clearly referred to by name.
The Great Dictator DVD features
Kevin Brownlow and Michael Kloft’s absorbing documentary, “The Tramp and the Dictator”. It backgrounds Chaplin and Hitler (who were born a few days apart). It gives a detailed account of The Great Dictator‘s production. Twenty-five minutes of color footage, shot by Chaplin’s brother Sydney on the set, provides a fascinating look behind the scenes. –Robert Horton