A Summary and Review of The Great Dictator

A Summary and Review of The Great Dictator

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  1. The Great Dictator (1940)

    Producer/Writer/Director/Composer: Charlie Chaplin
    Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie


    The Great Dictator was Charlie’s first true talking picture. It’s also Charlie’s most controversial, most courageous, and most audacious film of his entire career. In this film, Charlie plays two roles. He plays the Tramp-esque Jewish barber, as well as Adenoid Hynkel, the dictator of the fictional country of Tomania who is a direct parody of Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany and one of the founding members of the Nazi Political Party. That being said, you can see why The Great Dictator was so controversial.

    Charlie Chaplin was a very rare filmmaker, in the sense that he was able to create several near-perfect (and some absolutely perfect) masterpieces in succession. The Great Dictator is another one of these masterpieces, and sits as high as Chaplin’s best work.


    Charlie Chaplin plays a Jewish barber who is serving as a soldier of The Central Powers during a battle of World War I against the fictitious country of Tomania. He is tasked with operating a high-tech cannon and also fights alongside the other soldiers. During a firefight, he hears a pilot calling for help and Charlie runs to his rescue. He helps the pilot into his plane and they fly off together. However, the pilot is still groggy and is having trouble flying it. They crash and become severely injured, but still survive. Charlie would wake up many years later, with his memory scrambled.

    Meanwhile, Adenoid Hynkel, the dictator of Tomania, is delivering a speech about his plans for global domination and hatred of the Jews. Charlie on the other hand, is returning to his barbershop in the ghetto to find an unfamiliar world. The Jews are being prosecuted and he doesn’t understand any of it. After an altercation with a Stormtrooper, he gets briefed on what’s been happening by the locals, including his beautiful neighbor Hannah. The Stormtrooper that Charlie had to deal with returns, this time with reinforcements. Commander Shultz is with them, and is surprised to see Charlie. He reveals that he was the pilot that Charlie had saved those years ago, and happily lets Charlie and the others go.

    Hynkel is working on his plans of world domination and decides to invade the neighboring country of Osterlich. He tries to loan the money to do so from a Jewish investor, but the investor refuses because of Hynkel’s policies and prosecution of the Jews. He agrees to stop all of his orders against the Jews in order to get the loan.

    Charlie and rest of the locals of the ghetto are surprised and suspicious of the sudden change in the attitude of the Stormtroopers. But they soon find out it doesn’t last long when Hynkel reinstates his policies when the investor still refuses to pay. Commander Schultz suggests stopping the prosecution anyway and argues that it is immoral. Hynkel takes this as treason and sentences him to a concentration camp. Schultz manages to escape and takes refuge with Hannah’s family in the ghetto. They join forces and agree to try to stop Hynkel. Schultz devises a suicide mission but it is abandoned once they realize the futility of the mission. Soon after, the Stormtroopers ravage the ghetto looking for Schultz and the barber. Despite nearly escaping, they are captured and sent to a concentration camp.

    One other thorn in Hynkel’s side, in regard to the invasion of Osterlich, is Benzino Napaloni, who is the dictator of the also fictional country of Bacteria and is also a parody of the Italian dictator Mussolini. Hynkel finds out that Napaloni has his troops waiting on the border of Osterlich and Hynkel tries to get on his nice side by showing a military show and throwing a party in his honor. When Hynkel finally confronts Napaloni, they begin to discuss terms. Napaloni agrees to remove his troops after Hynkel signs a treaty that states that Hynkel will not invade Osterlich. But Hynkel retorts that he will only sign the treaty after Napaloni removes his troops. They argue back and forth until it escalates into a rather messy food fight. It all comes to an end when Hynkel agrees to sign the treaty, but is secretly planning to invade Osterlich anyway. Hynkel’s adviser suggests that Hynkel go out for a fishing trip while their troops storm into Osterlich so as to avoid any suspicion.

    With the barber gone, Hannah and the rest of the locals immigrate to Osterlich, unaware of Hynkel’s plan. Their short stretch of peace is quickly interrupted when the Stormtroopers arrive at their house and devastate the land. Meanwhile, Charlie and Schultz manage to escape the camp by dressing up like Tomanian officials. It is there that it becomes obvious that the barber looks like Hynkel when he is mistaken for the dictator, and the real Hynkel is mistaken as the barber and is arrested while on his fishing trip.

    Playing along with everything, Charlie and Schultz get into a car and are driven off to a large crowd where Hynkel is expected to give a speech. The nervous barber is forced onto the stage but he begins to search within himself as he delivers a truly captivatingly beautiful speech. Hannah and her family, absolutely downtrodden by everything they have gone through, suddenly feel a sense of hope and tranquility as they listen to Charlie’s enchanting speech.



    The Great Dictator is perhaps Chaplin’s most intelligent film. It rivals and perhaps surpasses Modern Times as being a brilliant take on controversial matters with very poignant satire. You can’t help but admire Charlie’s daring and the utter brilliance in the humor and the clever gags. There are some ingenious jokes that keep you laughing even after they’re over, because of how they play on your mind.This film also garnered five Academy Award nominations including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Unfortunately, he did not win any. It was, however, added to the National Film Registry, which is a rare and honorable feat.

    Charlie is spectacular here, his ability to portray such different and similar characters (in every aspect: speech, demeanor, disposition, and sense of humor) at the same time is bedazzling. The way he portrayed Hynkel is completely uproarious. He had Hynkel and all the other Tomanians speak in a sort of pseudo-German macaronic language that was often humorously translated. The silent film star shows us that he can be just as funny and moving (if not more) in a talkie. He delivers delicious dialogue and very snappy one-liners as well. If this film was a statement on anything else besides politics, it was a statement that showed the world that Charlie Chaplin could make talkies. More importantly, he showed people the reason he didn’t make talkies was indeed because he didn’t want to, not because he couldn’t.

    It’s not a perfect film, there aren’t as many hilarious jokes as you might expect from Chaplin and the script isn’t as tight, but the brilliance in this film is more attributed to smart satire, and the underlying messages within. Still, don’t think the film is boring or unfunny. It wouldn’t be a Chaplin film masterpiece if it wasn’t funny and The Great Dictator is very funny. There are so many incredible scenes that it’s so easy to lose count. But there are also many unforgettable scenes that really cemented Charlie’s reputation as one of the greatest , like, the barbershop song and shave choreography, the globe dance scene, the hilarious mock-languages, and many more. But just like many of Charlie’s best work there’s an unbelievably stunning moment that epitomizes the skill and talent that made Charlie Chaplin so beloved.

    In the final scene, the Jewish barber, dressed like Hynkel, delivers an undeniably arresting speech. It’s a speech that’s certainly one of the most impeccably delivered in the history of cinema. But what makes it so wonderful, is that it isn’t even really acting. All of a sudden, the Jewish barber, Adenoid Hynkel, The Little Tramp, all leave Charlie’s body, and you can see it in his eyes that it’s no longer the barber talking, it’s Charlie himself. Charlie Chaplin the man himself, not a character or what have you, but as a man, he expresses his wishes, hopes and dreams for a better world. He pleads to anyone watching to help him fight for peace and harmony. It’s the power and magic of the great Charlie Chaplin at work. What’s most amazing is that when Chaplin finally decided to speak, he gave one of the greatest movie speeches the world had ever seen and will ever see. That’s Charlie for you.

    The Great Dictator is a must-see for any real Chaplin fan or for any curious newcomers to Chaplin. It’s right up there with some of his purely greatest work, because it’s funny, moving, and brilliant in all senses of the words. You simply have to see it.

    RATING: 100/100


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