The Great Dictator Review

Even its title, The Great Dictator, is a biting bit of satire. Charlie Chaplin embodies the dastardly oxymoron, for there is no such thing as a great dictator. Those in doubt should play Tropico 4. That, or watch The Great Dictator, a magnificent comedy that riffs on Adolf Hitler and the disgrace of fascism. A dual role lays down the obvious contrasts of the men who find themselves on the top and bottom of the societal pile, and that is the great part of this comedic, war-birthed feature. Chaplin has his pulse on society, and while this feature may not mark his first jab at the world around him, it is certainly the most concentrated, and the most entertaining.  

His “interim of insanity,” as Chaplin’s opening states, is the main focus. Between two wars is the rise of a man most dangerous. Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin), and his ruling of fictional country Tomania, is a definitively obvious riff on Hitler and his rise to power. What Chaplin brings here is not just biting satire, but magnificent sight gags and stellar lines. Pulling the string of a giant cannon and throwing yourself to the floor is as fantastic as the defective shell gag that immediately follows. Chaplin, even when he offers himself a role that has ridicule and derision built into it, is still the fall guy. He is meant to be a fearful representation of a fictional state that, obviously, is a riff on Nazi Germany. Doing so is magnificent. He takes the bite out of dictatorships and disagreements, which so few have done since. The Death of Stalin strikes as the only successful rendition of this era of paranoia since Chaplin’s striking comedy.  

But what The Death of Stalin does not have is the contemporary, cutting jokes. Chaplin throws his physicality into a role that brings out the suppression and oppression of those the Nazi’s targeted. He does so with all the striking charms of his earlier works, and although he does not play the Tramp here, the physicality of such a role is thoroughly intact. But the polite oddity of his initial antics paves the way for incredible direction. He utilises the war-torn arena to his advantage, not just with sight gags and great dialogue, but through artistically inspired scenes. His gags are dependent on it, where the fog thins out and Hynkel finds himself walking alongside the enemy, his reaction and politeness are as funny as his visual punchline.  

How surprising it is to see war-torn trenches and dying soldiers in a comedy film. The Great Dictator demands it, and it is a necessity to underlining the scorching satire Chaplin presents. His knock at the evil man with the toothbrush ‘tasche would not work without the human angle. Guilt should be attached to such leaders. Those that sent men to die should be mocked and ridiculed at every chance, and that is what Chaplin successfully manages to do here. His tenacity to terrorise those he finds evil is thoroughly enjoyable and truly hilarious. His antics here are quick, consistent and typically charming. Far more than his tramp character, but perhaps it is the layer of social commentary that gives The Great Dictator an edge over the likes of Modern Times 

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