The Great Dictator Reviews
Unusual, truly hilarious comedy with Charlie playing both Hitler-like dictator and Jewish barber. Charlie's first talky is a remarkable movie going experience, not just as comedy but as an effective commentary on the wrongness of dictatorship (the ending scene is very unexpected). Still, not quite up to par with MODERN TIMES, CITY LIGHTS, etc.
A Jewish Barber (Charles Chaplin) suffers amnesia after getting injured in the war saving a General. The barber remains contained in a hospital staying ignorant to the ascent of a tyrant Hynkel - the eccentric dictator of Tomania (Charles Chaplin again) and the condition of his kind. When he stands up to the harassing fascist soldiers after walking into the turbulent world he earns love of Hannah (Paulette Goddard) but wrath from the fascists saved timely by the General. Meanwhile Hynkel is plotting to invade Osterlich by tricking Napolini, the dictator of Bacteria into pulling back their army.
Charles Chaplin is already a legend in playing the tramp character, but Hynkel was a different ballgame for him. It is a character of aggression, superiority and eccentricity but still clumsy as the tramp. The war sequences, rich palace settings elevates the scale of the movie compared to his previous outing, an equally magnificent 'Modern Times'. Chaplin is a gifted all rounder with a profound writing talent that always portrays the triumph of looking at life in positive outset and a sense of humor. The background score is melodious and rich according the situations. Paulette Goddard looks aged and heavy compared to 'Modern Times' but retains the charm and infective energy she possessed there. The remaining actors and the technical departments do an apt job in putting together this masterpiece.
Audacious, extravagant, contemporary and darkly hilarious
So why doesn't he make me laugh?
It's not that I'm too jaded for slapstick. I still laugh uproariously at Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton. Chaplin has just never made me laugh that hard. Perhaps he was too copied over the decades. I was familiar with his shtick before I ever saw his actual movies.
That's all forgiven for a movie like The Great Dictator though, because while all the Chaplinesque comedy is there, that's not the point of this movie. In 1940, when there was still enormous resistance to American intervention into the burgeoning war in Europe, when beloved icons like Charles Lindbergh were touting support for how that plucky little guy in Germany was picking that tattered country up by its bootstraps, when there was enough anti-Semitism in America to turn a blind eye to the often disbelieved reports coming out of the Jewish ghettos, Chaplin took a stand in his art when few others in America were. It's hard to believe nowadays that taking a stand against Hitler was once controversial. But it was, and Chaplin did, in no uncertain terms, devoting the full weight of his reputation and genius.
About halfway through this movie, I was no longer concerned that Chaplin wasn't making me laugh. The pressure of laughing at his comedy faded and the scope and artistry of his vision emerged. I wasn't just paying respect to a respected icon. I was in awe of a satiric masterpiece. And by the time Jack Oakie showed up in his faux-Mussolini character, I was genuinely laughing.