The Great Dictator

Year: 1940
Production Co: Charles Chaplin Productions
Studio: United Artists
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard

It's the original Hitler parody, and from what I've read about it, Chaplin's satire about a tyrant ruling a fascist state was poorly received in a world still in the midst of the Second World War and in no mood for Hitler jokes.

As history tells it, Chaplin started to regret parodying Nazism the more the atrocities committed in the war came to light, and when it was obvious Germany had expansion and extermination aims, he changed the end of the film to include the famous impassioned speech.

He plays two roles. First is a doltish barber-turned-solder who returns home to his barbershop unaware that any time has passed because of shellshock-incuded memory loss, and second is the buffoonish dictator Adenoid Hynkel, who has more ambition than talent.

As Hynkel consolidates his power with the help of much smarter advisors and forges links with the tyrant of a neighbouring country modeled on Mussolini, stormtropper thugs fan out throughout the city. They bust up Jewish shops, harass the people and threaten the budding relationship between the barber and pretty local girl Hannah.

We follow both characters and the tribulations they face until the bizarre final act comedy of errors that sees the meek Jewish barber put on stage to speak to adoring troops and followers after they mistake him for Hynkel. Completely out of character for the nervous, shuffling little man, Chaplin delivers a stirring call for peace and tolerance that sees him get so wound up he starts to remind you a little of archive footage of Hitler himself.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the film today apart from moviemaking styles that are half a century out of date. The continuity of the character at the end is just the pointy edge of a huge number of plotting, staging and pacing problems, but you have to forgive the special effects of the late 1930s.

A good one for Chaplin completists. If you're a fan you've probably seen Modern Times or one of the others that made his Little Tramp character famous. This is to Chaplin what Dr Strangelove is to Peter Sellers – the pet project of a performer who wanted to break out of the stuff everyone knew him for and try to flex his creative muscles.

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