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The Great Dictator
dir. Charles Chaplin / USA 1940 / 125’
subtitles: Polish


Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie, Reginald Gardiner, Henry Daniell

Film description

The Dictator is Chaplin’s first ‘talkie’. The great comedian decided he could no longer keep silent as the Jews of Europe fall victim to the Nazis. The film is a voice in defense of the persecuted, an appeal for peace and, above all, a satire of Hitler as represented in the film by the dictator Hynkel. The satire is exceptionally apposite, though in light of our knowledge of the totality and horrible nature of Nazi crimes, it seems unconscionably gentle.

Chaplin exploits the fact that Hitler looks like Chaplin’s character the Tramp (love that mustache!), enabling him to play both the dictator and Jewish barber, who saves the life of a German officer in the waning days of WWI. The barber loses his memory and spends years in the hospital unaware of the hellish pogroms outside its walls.

The Dictator includes several now historic scenes: shaving in rhythm to Brahms’ Hungarian Dance, Hynkel’s dance with the globe or the dictator’s speech during which Chaplin apes the Hitler’s shouts and theatrical gestures (the comic even invented a special language to parody German). These moments testify to Chaplin’s comedic genius, which has stood the test of time.

What about the film’s pacifist and humanist message? Maybe it is a touch too literal and overly obvious in the epilogue (remember, though, when The Dictator was made). Does that mean the message is any less relevant today? Unfortunately not.

Bartosz Żurawiecki

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