The Great Dictator Movie Review by Jonathan Chisdes
The Great Dictator
L'Chaim - September 2000



It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when Adolf Hitler was not considered the embodiment of evil, as he is today. Sixty years ago, in 1940, many Americans had no wish to fight him; they didn't see Nazism as the threat to the world that we know it was. For two years after the start of the Second World War, so many Americans continued to argue for neutrality; and some even favored helping the Nazis.

It was into this isolationist climate that Charlie Chaplin released his first "talkie" film, THE GREAT DICTATOR. This political satire did more than lampoon Hitler and Mussolini and call attention to the plight of European Jews; it was an indictment of the Nazi regime and a call to arms. Many, at the time, were outraged and Chaplin must be highly praised for his courage to tackle such a serious subject and controversial position for its time.

Several of the sequences are truly delightful in the classic Chaplinesque style, such as a scene when several men attempt to avoid being picked for an assassination attempt, a scene where Chaplin shaves a man to Brahms' "Hungarian Rhapsody," and the famous dance with the globe balloon. Playing two roles, the power hungry dictator Adenoid Hynkel, and the sweet Jewish barber, Chaplin's talent shines brightly.

But the film's main weakness, from a contemporary perspective, is its age. I don't mean only that a drawn-out comic style which was pleasing 60 years ago tends to fall a little flat today. But also the biting satire no longer seems relevant. In fact, given what we know about the Holocaust, which was not known in 1940, the film seems rather tame. Although Jews are harassed, nothing really bad happens to most of them. And even though Chaplin is thrown into a "concentration camp," it is portrayed as a simple prison. (Many years later, Chaplin wrote that if he had been aware of the full-scale horrors that were taking place, he could never have made the movie.)

Still, for the film's historical importance, it is a must-see. If not for the laughs, then for the final classic scene in which Chaplin addresses the audience and foretells the downfall of dictatorships. I certainly consider "The Great Dictator" as one of the top 100 films of all time--what more can you say?




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