The Great Dictator Reviews
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.
Viewed this on 31/8/15
Sound can do wonders to a Chaplin film and how I wish all the other Chaplin films had dialogues in them. The Great Dictator, the last American film from Chaplin, the last appearance of The Tramp ( as a Jewish Barber) is his best film to date and his best performance as well. I saw The Great Dictator with at most sadness, knowing that this is the last Chaplin film left for me. Chaplin gives a performance for ages as the Dictator in his most commercially successful film. In the mean time, he gives an equally fresh look on acting as the Tramp, this time with some dialogues. Paulette Goddard is also excellent in her role. Another thing that make the Great Dictator different from Chaplin's other films is the fact that he is backed up by a lot of superb supporting actors, a feat that's only seen before in The Kid(1921). Great Dictator is also surprisingly funny throughout and emotional as well as thought provoking.
Like most Charlie Chaplin films, The Great Dictator if a film very much of its time. As the time of Adolf Hitler's rule is now long in the past and socially acceptable comedy has changed, the shock effect of the film is no longer in play. Instead, it stands out as one of Charlie Chaplin's most bold decisions which maintains neverending relevance to both the world of cinema and the genuine. His writing is extremely brilliant.
The screenplay reduces the concept of Jews vs. Nazis to a mere game of high school bullying. As much as this oversimplifies the true nature of the racial conflict that occurred in WWII, it just goes to emphasize how arbitrary and ridiculous the concept of racism is. The antagonists have no sensible reason to antagonize, and their stupidity is too obvious. Most people in the modern day know that the concept of racism is plain ridiculous, but the fact that as far back as 1940 Charlie Chaplin was able to examine the concept and depict it as a childish game of bullying is just plain brilliant. He admitted that he never would have made the film if he knew of all the suffering that would happen in the holocaust, but we as viewers can remain so glad that he did. This theme transfers into the narrative during the first half of the film which is more slapstick oriented, while the second half of the film becomes a lot more focused on satirizing real life dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. I feel that as effective as this is, the second half of the film does not translate to modern day too well as it requires a more extensive understanding of history to truly appreciate. While the hilarious slapstick of the first half is more inclusive to any viewer, the second half is where things slow down and Charlie Chaplin becomes more focused on delivering a genuine political statement with his film. It is very respectable that he did this, but the shift in tones can be a little jarring for viewers who paid limited attention in history class. In that sense, I can't say that I understood every satirical element of the film. But I appreciate the man's best intentions.
And underneath the complex politics of The Great Dictator lies a very fun movie. Despite its edgy setting, Charlie Chaplin's passion for creating the finest vaudevillian comedy for the cinematic screen is not forgotten. In actual fact, he combines his slapstick antics with a new level of production values and is able to offer a much larger comedic spectacle than ever before. His physical antics are transferred into a lot of large scale production design and scenery, successfully transferring the into a believable context. Seeing the man's iconic slapstick against the backdrop of a war satire is just plain hilarious and there is a strong quantity of hilarious slapstick sight gags to lighten the mood in the face of its complex political context.
Much of the comedy in The Great Dictator is very theatrical. All the humour is captured through a series of extensive shots which show extensive effort of rehearsal on behalf of the talented cast. Little editing is required because the cast members all work perfectly together, and the lighthearted nature of the comic life is emphasized through the use of a classical musical score. The slapstick moments have detailed technical value to them, but it is largely Charlie Chaplin who is owed the credit for his physical effort in them.
Charlie Chaplin's dual role in The Great Dictator can be summarized by the titular adjective. Working his usual vaudevillian shtick, Charlie Chaplin's hilarious physical energy caters to fans easily. And yet, this time his role is so much more. As Charlie Chaplin is the second most iconic man in history to maintain the toothbrush mustache, it is an utmost necessity to all comedic existence that he parody the most iconic man, Adolf Hitler. And without making light of the suffering faced by the Jewish people, Charlie Chaplin plays an everyman caught up in the war who embodies the man's Tramp stereotype. And in a turn of events, when attempting to capture the madness of Adenoid Hynkel Charlie Chaplin is able to really unravel himself into moments of insane dramatic strength which reaches the point of almost being intimidating. And yet, neither of these moments are the endeavour of his acting effort. That comes when he is told to deliver a monologue to the people of Germany. His monologue at the end of the film is a perfect summary of everything happening in the world of 1940, a chance for Charlie Chaplin to really stand up and say that unity of humanity is the only true path to a good world. In the most realistic moment of Charlie Chaplin's entire acting career, the man shouts this speech straight through the lens that he stares at and reaches out to viewers with the most genuine passion for every word. For Charlie Chaplin's first talking role, he speaks unforgettable words of wisdom at this very moment which is clearly the greatest moment of acting in his entire career. If Charlie Chaplin's hilarious slapstick as the Jewish barber and intense dramatic strength as Adenoid Hynkel wasn't enough to warrant an Academy Award nomination, then the timeless monologue he delivers to bring The Great Dictator to a close surely is.
Jack Oakie also delivers a solid performance. Although I'm not too familiar with the mannerisms of Benito Mussolini, Jack Oakie's flamboyant physical energy follows on with Charlie Chaplin very well. He is hilarious of his own right, and the quality of the chemistry he shares with Charlie Chaplin gives the man a worthy comic adversary to bounce off of. Jack Oakie delivers arguably one of the most memorable performances from a Charlie Chaplin movie not to be delivered by that man himself, and so his Academy Award nomination is a fine piece of recognition for his talent.
So The Great Dictator does require a bit of historical knowledge and it has a lot of ground to cover, but with brilliant political commentary combined with hilarious slapstick, Charlie Chaplin keeps the film hilarious and legitimate at the same time while delivering his all-time greatest performance.