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USA 1940
Directed by
Charles Chaplin
125 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Great Dictator

Made before the invasion of Poland and the full force of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic agenda manifested itself Charlie Chaplin's lampooning of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism is a presciently provocative film, made at a time when Britain was still trying to placate the would-be ruler of the world and anticipating Ernst Lubitsch’s classic To Be Or Not To Be by two years although its combination of slapstick and satire is rather awkward and heavy-handed.

In his first talking movie, writer-director Chaplin plays both Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomania and lookalike Jewish barber who in the classical mistaken identity way of things ends up changing places with him. There’s a lot of Chaplin’s physical style of comedy, taken directly from his “Little Tramp (who of course anticipated Hitler’s moustache style)” years.  The comedic highpoints of the film are provided by the encounters between Hynkel and Benzoni Napoloni (Jack Oakie), dictator of the neighboring state of Bacteria but it all feels a little too superficial and the culminating speech in which the barber as Hynkel makes Chaplin’s heartfelt plea for peace, love and understanding is too programmatic to be effective and is incongruous with the overall spirit of buffoonery.

As a Chaplin comedy The Great Dictator is far from being his best but as part of his overall career it is a commendable one.




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