The Great Dictator (1940)


Dave’s 3-Word Review:
Brave and Inspiring

There are only a select few movies I know of that are nearly half a decade older than me that I cherish. For me personally, older movies are hard to rate because they often cover a range of topics that I don’t have the best knowledge over, so my review would be biased. Another reason why I don’t like a lot of older films is because I review for a newer audience; is this a film I could really suggest to a brand new audience? Is it relevant? Are people’s modern expectations too much for a movie that had far less technical benefits than today? Personally, I don’t think a lot of movies translate well for a younger generation. While I can appreciate them for what they are, and what they meant when they were first released, sometimes they just…suck now…in my honest opinion. Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator is one of those movies that just did almost everything right, and still maintains a significant level of relevancy.

Charlie Chaplin stars in this movie as a poor Jewish barber that bears a striking resemblance to none other than Hynkel, the Dictator or Tomania. Hynkel, of course, is supposed to be Adolf Hitler. After World War I, the barber hit his head and got amnesia, twenty years later, he heads back to his home town and starts up his barber business in the middle of the great depression. Under Hynkel’s rule, the barber and his neighbors constantly are controlled and harassed. When a comrade from the rule decides to infiltrate the Nazis, the barber must use his resemblance to take over the role as dictator, and change things around for the better.

There are absolutely no words to give this film justice. Charlie Chaplin is a brave soul for deciding to make The Great Dictator. I kept asking myself why they didn’t just call the dictator Hitler, and it occurred to me…the movie was made and released just as World War II had begun. This condescending movie with a strong political message was made during World War II. Which means it struck controversy around the globe. Much like movies today will feature a black president, but call him Johnson…this film did the same thing…just under a lot more riskier circumstances. Even Chaplin himself had told the public that had he known the true brutality and “homicidal insanity of the Nazis”, he would not have made this film.

Chaplin truly had a unique vision and strong feelings towards the war, and he told it in the best possible way he could, through comedy and just enough drama. When it came down to the comedy, only Chaplin could pull off the ridiculous things that happen in the movie and still have it be incredibly entertaining. There are plenty of scenes in this film that you could mute, as it had the same magical and resonating chemistry Chaplin brought to his silent films. As for the “talkie” part of the movie? Well, it was Chaplin’s first, and it really makes you appreciate the man’s continual talents to act and to spread a message. For his first talkie, that last speech he makes is still one of the best speeches ever made in film history, as well as actual history, period. His message still remains relevant, liberating, and inspirational. The power of the speech alone is still used in viral videos on YouTube today. That’s huge.

I also have to hand it to Chaplin for playing both Hynkel and the barber. The movie could have easily been written in a way for there to be two main actors in the lead that at least…look a little bit like each other, but I can’t imagine anyone else being in these roles other than Chaplin himself. As two distinct roles, he does a tremendous job switching personalities in order to get the message across.

I don’t have a lot of bad things to say about the movie, but there were a few things I will mention. I do like things to be consistent regarding technical things. There were parts here and there that were clearly sped up. For the time period, it wasn’t really unheard of the speed things up, it was part of the style, but not a lot of people in the younger generation will understand why those sped up bits weren’t just all the same speed as the rest of the film. Also, Chaplin’s resemblance to Hykel was obvious…I’m just trying to figure out with all of his run-ins with Nazis, you’d think one of them might think, oh…there’s Hykel. They don’t though, not till the end. So this isn’t a Prince and the Pauper story, but you would almost expect it to be…kind of like…dare I say it, The Dictator. What they actually did with this though, was amazing and perfect. It’s barely even a complaint, but some others might question the realism of the movie because of it.

This movie is old. In fact, it’s nearly three quarters of a century old, but the way they handle technical effects was nothing less than brilliant. For a generation that can’t seem to think up new ideas so they borrow old ones, this film still remains practically untouched in its originality. There’s no other way to describe it, this movie is a gem, and it isn’t one to be missed. It’s important, it’s brave, it’s rare, it’s beautiful, and it is still relevant 75 years later.

If you haven’t seen The Great Dictator, or are unfamiliar with Chaplin’s work, this is definitely a good start. Check it out. Tell me what you thought.


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