Monday, March 24, 2014

Movie of the Week – The Great Dictator

This week’s movie: The Great Dictator (1940)

This is a story of two men: Adenoid Hynkel, a ruthless dictator who has risen to power during the economic collapse of the nation of Tomainia in the wake of WWI – which they were on the losing side, and a Jewish barber, who fought in the war for Tomainia but suffered an injury that caused him to lose his memory. Hynkel is set on expanding his empire while stealing the wealth of and imprisoning his country’s Jewish people. The barber desperately tries to avoid persecution. There is one curious thing, however, between them: Hynkel and the barber look quite similar. This fact might very well save the barber’s life and help change the world.

Writer-director-star Charles Chaplin decided to finally make his first  talkie in 1938 and started work on The Great Dictator after people had commented that his famous Tramp character had a resemblance to Adolf Hitler. Chaplin made a name for himself as probably the greatest silent comedian, with films such as The Gold Rush, City Lights, and Modern Times (my personal favorite), and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. His fans at the time expected silent comedies from him even though film had fully transitioned to sound by the mid-1930s. This was a big change for Chaplin (though, there is a political undercurrent to his other films as well).

In addition to Chaplin, the film features Jack Oakie, Henry Daniell, Billy Gilbert, and Paulette Goddard (his wife at the time).

Chaplin saw Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (a film made to promote the idea of the German people and the Aryan race as superior), and took it to be unintentionally quite funny, using many of its elements for The Great Dictator. He carefully studied Hitler’s mannerisms to create his caricature. Chaplain aimed to make both a very funny satire of the Nazi Party and Hitler and a stirring call to arms to defeat this emerging evil (multiple years before the United States had entered the war). He saw the violence and repression directed at Jewish people by the Nazis and was horrified (and, at the time, he did not have any idea of the sheer extent that this violence was escalated). Chaplin would later say that if he had known of the atrocities that the Nazis were committing he would not have made the film. Filming began one week after the start of WWII. The film was very well received upon its release and very popular among American and British audiences. It became Chaplin’s highest grossing film of his career. The speech that concludes the film from the barber posing as Hynkel is magnificent. This is a must-see for all fans of cinema.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video On-Demand

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