#250 / 365 – ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940) – 125 mins
IMDb Challenge #146 / 250 – Ranked #91 – iTunes
During World War I, a Jewish barber (Chaplin) in the army of Tomania saves the life of high-ranking officer Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). While Schultz survives the conflict unscathed, the barber is stricken with amnesia and bundled off to a hospital. Twenty years pass: Tomania has been taken over by dictator Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin again) and his stooges Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Herring (Billy Gilbert). Hynkel despises all Jews and regularly wreaks havoc on the Tomanian Jewish ghetto, where feisty Hannah (Paulette Goddard) lives. Meanwhile, the little barber escapes from the hospital and instinctively heads back to his cobweb-laden ghetto barber shop. Unaware of Hynkel’s policy towards Jews (in fact, he’s unaware of Hynkel), the barber gets into a slapstick confrontation with a gang of Aryan storm troopers.
Being a fan of Charles Chaplin, I’m going to come straight out and say it on the Chaplin picture that had eluded me until now – I didn’t like The Great Dictator at all. I desperately wanted and tried to like the film, which is considered by many to be the greatest work of the genius comic and what was his first ‘talkie’, but for a comedy I barely laughed and the story never engaged with me at all. I just found that in this political satire which is Chaplin’s take on the Third Reich that he had lost something in humor and heart found in those early silent pictures, where it was enormously on show in the ‘The Kid (1921)’ and ‘City Lights (1931)’ two of my personal favourites.
That’s not to say there aren’t some moments of hilarity in The Great Dictator where Chaplin plays both Adenoid Hynkel, The Dictator of Tomanina and the Jewish barber who lives in the ghetto. The word play with the Nazi and then when Hynkel does a comic ballet dance with a large balloon shaped like the Earth. Apart from that, I can’t really recommend the Great Dictator as a whole as it’s basically long stretches of failed jokes and comedic moments.