Comedy Monday: The Great Dictator (1940)

4 07 2011

In Charlie Chaplin’s next feature film after “Modern Times” he collaborates once again with the spunky Paulette Goddard whom he had since married. This time around Chaplin moves on from the depression to World War II in which he plays two roles: Adenoid Hynkel the dictator of Tomainia, and a Jewish barber. The plot appropriately focuses on the two characters switching back and forth throughout the film. This is a large departure from Chaplin’s previous work that would focus on just one character, this results in two stories that get half the screen time and consequently aren’t as developed. In addition, even though many comedic scenes work several are also just off despite being very Chaplin in nature. With “Modern Times” he made a small commentary on the depression and “The Great Dictator” allows Chaplin to take it even farther, creating a movie in which the comedy comes second to what is being depicted and this isn’t a bad thing. I found Chaplin’s two previous films “City Lights” and “Modern Times” both to be near perfect, unfortunately the same cannot be said of “The Great Dictator”. It is funny and interesting but a little too underdeveloped and inconsistent to be put with Chaplin’s best.

“We’ve just discovered the most wonderful, the most marvelous poisinous gas. It will kill everybody.”

The film starts with a great scene taking place in 1918 during WWI. This whole opening is one of the comedic highlights of the film. From the Big Bertha cannon to the fantastic escape flight it is Chaplin at his finest. It isn’t the high point of the film but is a great opening to set the movie up, after that though some parts work out great and other overstay their welcome or were just off the mark creating a good yet inconsistent comedy.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.”

“The Great Dictator” shows a move to providing a commentary or purpose beyond the laughter. Strangely enough the two best scenes in the film come from this source. The first of which is this fantastic scene where after a discussion about world domination Hynkel plays with a balloon globe. It is light and funny but most importantly poetic in that the second he grasps it, the globe pops. The other really has no humor at all, and that is the final speech. Near the end the barber gets confused for the Dictator and after accidentally declaring war on another country he is asked to give a speech. What he comes up with is a passionate plea advocating the morals and values of what it is to be human, which hits even harder with the 1940 release and what was happening at the time. This moment is, without a doubt, one of the greatest screen speeches as well as one of the greatest endings to a film.

Overall, “The Great Dictator” does not live up the impeccable standards that Chaplin set for himself. Nevertheless it has enough humor to keep the story going and has perhaps the most going on outside of the comedy of any Chaplin film. Definitely not his best work but something that should be watched and will be greatly appreciated by all.


Score: 85/100





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