The Great Dictator - Film (Movie) Plot and Review





USA, 1940


Director: Charles Chaplin

Production: United Artists; black and white, 35mm; running time: 127 minutes. Released 1940.


Producer: Charles Chaplin; screenplay: Charles Chaplin; photography: Karl Struss and Rollie Totheroh; editor: Willard Nico; art director: J. Russell Spencer; music: Meredith Wilson.

Cast: Charles Chaplin ( Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Ptomania/A Jewish Barber ); Paulette Goddard ( Hannah ); Jack Oakie ( Benzini Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria ); Reginald Gardiner ( Schultz ); Henry Daniell ( Garbitsch ); Billy Gilbert ( Herring ).


Publications


Books:

Tyler, Parker, Chaplin, Last of the Clowns , New York, 1947.

Huff, Theodore, Charlie Chaplin , New York, 1951.

Bessy, Maurice, and Robert Florey, Monsieur Chaplin; ou, Le Rire dans la nuit , Paris, 1952.

Sadoul, Georges, Vie de Charlot , Paris, 1952.

Leprohon, Pierre, Charlot , Paris, 1957; revised edition, 1970.

Mitry, Jean, Charlot et la fabulation chaplinesque , Paris, 1957.

Amengual, Barthélemy, Charles Chaplin , Paris, 1963.

Chaplin, Charles, My Autobiography , London, 1964.

McDonald, Gerald, and others, The Films of Charlie Chaplin , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1965.

Martin, Marcel, Charlie Chaplin , Paris, 1966; third edition, 1983.

McCaffrey, Donald, editor, Focus on Chaplin , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1971.

Mitry, Jean, Tout Chaplin: Tous les films, par le texte, par le gag, et par l'image , Paris, 1972.

Chaplin, Charles, My Life in Pictures , London, 1974.

Manvell, Roger, Chaplin , Boston, 1974.

Moss, Robert, Charlie Chaplin , New York, 1975.

Sobel, Raoul, and David Francis, Chaplin: Genesis of a Clown , London, 1977.

Baldelli, P., Charlie Chaplin , Florence, 1977.

Lyons, Timothy J., Charles Chaplin: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1979.

Eisenstein, Sergei, Film Essays and a Lecture , edited by Jay Leyda, Princeton, 1982.

Haining, Peter, editor, The Legend of Charlie Chaplin , London, 1982.

Gehring, Wes D., Charlie Chaplin: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1983.

Robinson, David, Chaplin: The Mirror of Opinion , London, 1983.

Kamin, Dan, Charlie Chaplin's One-Man Show , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.

Smith, Julian, Chaplin , Boston, 1984.

Robinson, David, Chaplin: His Life and Art , London, 1985.

Saint-Martin, Catherine, Charlot/Chaplin; ou, La Conscience du mythe , Paris, 1987.

The Great Dictator
The Great Dictator

Avisar, Ilan, Screening the Holocaust: Cinema's Images of the Unimaginable , Bloomington, Indiana, 1988.

Chaplin, Charlie, Die Schlussrede aus dem Film Der grosse Diktator , Hamburg, 1993.

Lynn, Kenneth S., Charlie Chaplin and His Times , New York, 1997.

Mitchell, Glenn, The Chaplin Encyclopedia , Phoenix, 1997.

Milton, Joyce, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin , New York, 1998.

Kimber, John, The Art of Charles Chaplin , Sheffield, 2000.


Articles:

Cooke, Alistair, "Charlie Chaplin," in Atlantic (Boston), August 1939.

Life (New York), 2 September 1940.

Times (London), 16 October 1940.

Variety (New York), 16 October 1940.

New York Times , 16 October 1940.

Todd, Daniel, in New Masses (New York), 17 December 1940.

"Hitler and Chaplin at 54," in New York Times Magazine , 18 April 1943.

Warshow, Robert, "A Feeling of Sad Dignity," in Partisan Review (New Brunswick, New Jersey), November-December 1954.

Baker, Peter, "Clown with a Frown," in Films and Filming (London), August 1957.

Dyer, Peter John, "The True Face of Man," in Films and Filming (London), September 1958.

Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York), 5 and 12 March 1964.

Goodman, Paul, "Film Chronicle (1940): Chaplin Again, Again, and Again," in Movie (London), Winter 1964.

Lyons, Timothy J., "Roland H. Totheroh Interviewed," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1972.

Harvey, S., in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1972.

Chevassu, F., in Image et Son (Paris), November 1972.

Lefèvre, Raymond, "Le Dictateur: Un Culot inoui," in Cinéma (Paris), November 1972.

Tarratt, Margaret, in Films and Filming (London), March 1973.

Bourget, J. L., "L'Art des transitions dans Le Dictateur ," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1973.

Boost, C., in Skoop (The Hague), August 1973.

Friedrich, J., "Die letzte Tortenschlacht: Chaplins Grosser Diktator und das Ende des Slapsticks," in Filmkritik (Munich), November 1973.

Giuricin, G., "La negazione del dittatore come fenomeno di massa," in Cinema Nuovo (Turin), January-February 1977.

Chaplin, Charles, "Charles Chaplin (en) français," in Image et Son (Paris), January 1977.

"Chaplin Issue" of Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), March 1978.

"Chaplin Issue" of University Film Association Journal (Houston), no. 1, 1979.

Goldfarb, A., "Adolf Hitler as Portrayed in Drama and Film," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), no. 1, 1979.

Sato, Tadao, "The Comedy of Ozu and Chaplin: A Study in Contrast," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no. 2, 1979.

Goldstein, R. M., in Film News (New York), March-April 1979.

Bodeen, DeWitt, in Magill's Survey of Cinema 1 , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

Revue Belge du Cinéma (Brussels), Summer 1984.

Short, K. R. M., "Chaplin's The Great Dictator and British Censorship 1939," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television (Abingdon, Oxfordshire), March 1985.

Gyurey, V., "A Harmadik Birodalom es a Fuehrer ket nezopontbol," in Filmkultura (Budapest), no. 6, 1989.

"'Char': The Great Dictator," in Variety (New York), vol. 336, no. 3, 2 August 1989.

Reid's Film Index , no. 6, 1991.

Delage, C., "La fiction contre l'histoire?: Le Dictateur ," in Vertigo (Paris), no. 13, 1995.

Roth-Lindberg, O., "En ironisk rockad," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 37, no. 5/6, 1995/1996.

Seesslen, G., "Chaplins spaete Filme," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 14, August 1997.

Rancière, Jacques, "La fiction difficile," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), no. 521, February 1998.


* * *


The Great Dictator was Chaplin's first dialogue film, the first film for which he wrote a script in advance, and the first film in two decades in which he does not star as the Tramp. Instead Chaplin plays a double role—a little Jewish barber, who closely resembles the Tramp, and the great dictator of Ptomania, Adenoid Hynkel, an obvious parody of Adolf Hitler, whom Chaplin ironically resembled.

The funniest sequences of the film are Chaplin's burlesques of Hitler's rhetoric, mannerisms, and delusions of grandeur. In one of those comic sequences, Hynkel delivers a political speech that is so scorching that the microphones melt and bend. Hynkel is so inflamed by his rhetorical passion that he not only has to cool his throat with water but also splashes water down the front of his pants—a brilliantly subtle Freudian suggestion that much of the fire of Hitler's political persuasion derives from the urgings of his genitals. In perhaps the most memorable sequence of the film, Hynkel converts the globe of the earth into his balloon-like plaything, performing a languid, romantic, dreamlike ballet with the floating globe, revealing his aspirations to possess the earth in almost sexual terms. This comic sexuality is reinforced by both the suggestions of masturbation in Hynkel's solo dance with the globe, and in the fact that the sort of actions he performs precisely mirror the twirls and gyrations of a bubble dancer, teasingly playing with the circular globe that hides her most mysterious parts from her leering audience.

In contrast to the delusions of the dictator is the earthy, pragmatic activity of the barber, a German soldier injured in World War I, suffering from amnesia, who awakens and returns to "Ptomanian" society only to find himself in an unfamiliar world where Jews are outcasts. In immediate response to the dictator's dance with the globe is the Jewish barber's snappy shaving of a customer to the precise rhythms of a Brahms Hungarian dance. The barber's snappy, vital, human-oriented actions contrast deliberately with the dictator's masturbatory solo. The barber also contrasts with the dictator in his relationship to language. As opposed to flaming rhetoric, the barber talks very little—another clear parallel to the Tramp. But at the end of the film, the barber, because of his physical resemblance, is mistaken for the dictator and asked to deliver the victorious speech to celebrate the invasion of "Austerlich." The barber becomes very talkative, summoning his courage and feelings to deliver a direct appeal to all his viewers for hope, peace, and humanity. Although the lengthy, explicit political speech is deliberately woven into the film's action— which has contrasted the barber and the dictator in their relationship to human speech—the monologue struck many critics as overly explicit and impassioned, inadequately translated into Chaplin's tools of comedy, irony, and physical action.

Chaplin claims that he was unaware of the horrors of the Nazi death camps when he made the film. The outrageous sense of burlesque in the film implies the general American belief that Hitler was more of a clown to be laughed at than a menace to be feared. The reduction of Hitler's associates and allies to buffoons reveals the same pattern—Goering becomes Herring, Goebbels becomes Barbitsch, Mussolini becomes Benzino Napaloni, impersonated by a pastaslinging Jack Oakie. Chaplin later stated that if he had known about the seriousness and murderousness of the Nazi threat he would have never made the film.

—Gerald Mast

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