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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Great Dictator


Written, produced, scored, directed and also starring (in a dual role no less) by the great Charles Chaplin, The Great Dictator is a 1940 political satire and a clear transitional film between his most famous earlier silent comedies and his later films which contained more overt social commentary.
The film follows the story of a Jewish barber (Chaplin) in the fictional nation of Tomania. During WWI the barber saves the life of pilot Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) but loses his memory in the process as the result of a concussion. Twenty years later, the barber escapes hospital (still not having recovered his memory) and instinctively heads back to his old shop in the ghetto, not aware of the fact that the country is now in the hands of dictator Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin) under whose command the Jews are being prosecuted and who looks like a spitting image of the barber. After a slapstick altercation with some of Hynkel's goons, the barber and Schultz, now a high-ranking officer in Hynkel's army who objects against the treatment of the Jewish people by the regime, are jailed. The two manage to escape and try to make it to the border but when Hynkel, dressed in regular gear during a duck hunt, is mistakenly arrested instead of the barber, the barber is forced to take his Hynkel's place during a huge rally, leading to perhaps one of the most famous speeches ever delivered in cinema.
An incredible work of prescient satire, The Great Dictator was Charles Chaplin's first venture into talkies (although it still contains various lengthy silent sequences) and one of the first movies to take on Nazi Germany, Hitler and Mussolini head on. Chaplin later stated that had he known the extent of the horrors which would be occurring under the Nazi regime (the film was written even before Germany invaded Poland), he would not have made the movie so we might consider ourselves lucky. Chaplin shines in his double role (and kills particularly it as Hynkel) whilst Paulette Goddard plays the love interest and Jack Oakie goes completely over the top as Italian fascist leader Napolini (ie Mussolini). Highlights include Hynkel playing with a huge air filled globe and the film's final speech, pleading for peace, tolerance and compassion. The Great Dictator was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Film, Actor and Screenplay, and won Chaplin a Best Actor Award from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, which he refused to accept. A genuine masterpiece.