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Film Studies 101
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Tragic 1 Star

Charles Chaplin
Paulette Goddard
Jack Oakie
Reginald Gardiner.
Charles Chaplin.
Charles Chaplin.
Running Time
125 minutes

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The Great Dictator
Chaplin's story of an amnesiac Jewish barber mistaken for fascist leader Adenoid Hynkel allows him his twin indulgences of sentimentality and liberal politics.

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An amnesiac Jewish barber and World War I hero is persecuted by, then mistaken for, fascist leader Adenoid Hynkel.


Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler were born in the same week in April 1899. But, as the opening caption of this daring satire insists, `Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental'. This was a piercingly double-edged gag, as not only had the Reich banned Chaplin's films under the misapprehension that he was a Jew, but the rumour also persisted that Hitler himself was of Semitic extraction.
     The picture certainly ruffled feathers in Germany, with the Consul George Gyssling writing to Hollywood's moral guardian, Joseph Breen, to have the project quashed when it was announced in 1939. Yet, it was later asserted that the Führer had imported a print from Portugal and had watched it twice. His reaction was never recorded, but his architect, Albert Speer, claimed that Chaplin's impersonation of Hitler's mannerisms was uncanny.
    Seven years after its release, The Great Dictator got Chaplin into even more trouble, when his former friend and onetime Communist sympathiser Konrad Bercovici sued him for $5 million for plagiarising his original idea. Chaplin settled out of court for $90,000, although he always insisted that the producer Alexander Korda had suggested a comedy trading on his similarity to Hitler in 1937.
     Moreover, it's hard to think of anyone else devising such comic business as the barber shaving to the accompaniment of Brahms's Hungarian dance, Hynkel pirhouetting around his office balancing a giant floating globe or the Tomanian and Bacterian dictators fighting for supremacy in elevator chairs. The concluding speech, in which the barber appeals for world peace, was also pure Chaplin - although, by the time it was finished, the picture's primary purpose was to rouse America from its isolationist lethargy to combat the threat posed by Fascism.

     The film drew a mixed critical response, but received five Oscar nominations. It remains both funny and poignant, with Chaplin excelling in his dual role, while being magnificently supported by Henry Daniell as Garbitsch, Billy Gilbert as Herring and Jack Oakie as the competitively bombastic Napolini.

Though the slapstick may seem tired now. there are moments of greatness, notably Charlie's graceful globe-juggling routine and, for all its idealism, the final speech during which any sense of the barber, the dictator or the little tramp fades away, leaving only Chaplin himself speaking directly from the heart.

Reviewed by David Parkinson

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One of the greatest movie ever. ... More

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Posted by ARmy2510 at 01:22, 14 April 2011 | Report This Post

The Real Deal

This could very simply be one of the best, if not the best satires I have ever seen. The comedy was hilarious, with the genius comic timing and execution that you could rely on from the great Chaplin. But it is the serious and moving edge of this movie with is conveyed so well, mocking Hitler in one breath, whist trying to highlight the plight of the Jewish population of Europe during the early days of word war two. It could be the be the fact that in the end, the horror of which Chaplin h... More

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Posted by neopol at 11:17, 06 August 2010 | Report This Post

Chaplin is phenomonal in his dual role in this, one of the greatest comedies ever made ... More

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Posted by cinefile at 02:25, 17 September 2009 | Report This Post

Chaplin is phenomonal in his dual role in this, one of the greatest comedies ever made ... More

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Posted by cinefile at 02:25, 17 September 2009 | Report This Post

The Great Dictator

The parallels between Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler are actually quite eerie: they were born within four days of each other in April 1889, they both grew up in poverty, and then there were those toothbrush moustaches (although Chaplin's was of course just part of a costume). Chaplin conquered the world with laughter, and Hitler almost conquered the world with hatred. So it was quite fitting that it should be Chaplin who made the definitive satire against Nazism. This film made me laugh out lo... More

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Posted by Swifty170 at 21:52, 17 November 2008 | Report This Post

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