The Great Dictator
Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner.
Running time: 125 minutes
Directed by: Charlie Chaplin
Written by: Charlie Chaplin
In his time, Chaplin has made some great films. Compared to lacklustre comedy of today it is still a masterpiece, despite still being completely out there. His comedy is not for everyone and at times is very subjective, especially with it being repeated from film to film, however with The Great Dictator we find something completely different, this is a comedy but one with huge themes and a giant message.
The film is based around the beginning of the Second World War and pokes fun at the tyrant that is Adolf Hitler, before he had even become his most evil. The film brandishes him for all of his sins before he has even committed them. After doing a little research, some believed that this film could have been the tipping point for Hitler himself!
We start off following Chaplin during the First World War, where he accidentally saves a man's life on the eve of its end. This man ends up rising high in the new government where as Chaplin suffers memory loss from his exploits during this war and ends up being hospitalised. When he finally returns to his home in the Ghetto, where he is a barber, he sees that a new Dictator has taken over and his town is being terrorised by Storm Troopers. This new Dictator is Henkel, a portrayal of Hitler himself, also played by Chaplin. He is the leader of Tomania and is deciding whether to issue war or a truce against fellow Dictator Napaloni, leader of Bacteria. If this isn't taking the mick I don't know what is.
In the Ghetto the Barber , on several occasions, attacks the Storm Troopers for racially abusing him as a Jew, and upon capture is save by the man he saved years before in the war. The Barber is then deemed untouchable and continues his life whilst wooing the woman next door. However his luck changes when the man he saved is outcast as a traitor and the Storm Troopers cease their chance to get their own back on the Barber, leaving him in a Concentration Camp.
The film is hard to believe considering it came out before many of Hitler's war crimes took place, especially with on watching you see how true all this seemed to become. At the time the film was tarnished as unwittingly brandishing the Jews. Little did Chaplin know that in hindsight he was right on the money.
On reading this you will think the film is very unlike Chaplin and to be fair it is, but we are still treated to the very same Chaplinesque moments, all which break the tension when it is needed. At one point Henkel shoots a guard dead before walking off and tripping up his own feet. You get his evil brandished with his stupidity. However Henkel is portrayed in a way that you never sympathise with him and in fact always hate him. You laugh at him, not with him and I can only imagine how hard that must have been to do at the time of this film. In hindsight we can happily laugh at the man that attempted to destroy the majority of the planet but back then, on the eve of the beginning, this must have been seen as a step too far.
It is deep considering it is Chaplin and upon watching I found myself enjoying it but not for all the typical Chaplin reasons. Yes it made me laugh but it is nowhere near as funny as some of his previous work. On the other hand there is a much deeper plot and narrative and ultimately a real meaningful message. The only thing that keeps this in keeping with previous Chaplin is the horrible continuity problems, but I'm starting to expect that from old films. It's just something though I can't allow my eye to miss.
It is a decent film and you will be engaged, however you will find yourself at times thinking that the comedy elements are completely out of place, especially when it is not seen in hindsight by Chaplin himself. Not one of Chaplin's best but I'm sure the film he will be most remembered for. His final speech, spoken out of character by Chaplin himself, is a message to all those out there during the war and does put a lot of their pains into perspective.
3 / 5
Next film I'll be reviewing: LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN