The Great Dictator
|The Great Dictator|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Charles Chaplin|
|Produced by||Charles Chaplin|
|Written by||Charles Chaplin|
|Music by||Charles Chaplin
|Editing by||Willard Nico
|Studio||Charles Chaplin Film Corporation|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Running time||124 minutes|
The Great Dictator is a 1940 American comedy-drama film starring, written, produced, scored, and directed by Charlie Chaplin, following the tradition of many of his other films. Having been the only Hollywood filmmaker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, this was Chaplin's first true talking picture as well as his most commercially successful film.
At the time of its first release, the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin's film advanced a stirring, controversial condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini's fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis, whom he mocks in the film as "machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts".
Chaplin's film followed only a few months after Hollywood's first parody of Hitler, the short subject You Nazty Spy! by the Three Stooges, although Chaplin had been planning it for years before. Hitler had been previously allegorically pilloried in the German film by Fritz Lang, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. In his 1964 autobiography, Chaplin stated that he would not have made the film had he known about the actual horrors of the Nazi concentration camps at the time.
During a battle in the last months of World War I, the protagonist, an unnamed soldier (known only in the credits as A Jewish Barber), is fighting for the Central Powers in the army of the fictional nation of Tomainia, comically blundering through the trenches in combat scenes. Upon hearing a fatigued pilot pleading for help, the Barber attempts to rescue the exhausted officer, Commander Schultz. The two board Schultz's nearby airplane and fly off, barely escaping enemy ground fire. Schultz reveals that he is carrying important dispatches that could win the war. However, the plane loses fuel and crashes in a marsh. They both survive, but the Barber suffers from memory loss. As medics arrive, Commander Schultz gives them the dispatches, but is told that the war has just ended and Tomainia lost.
Years later, as the Barber is released from the hospital, Adenoid Hynkel (also played by Chaplin), the ruthless dictator of Tomainia, has undertaken to persecute Jews throughout his country, aided by Secretary of the Interior and Minister of Propaganda Garbitsch and Minister of War Herring. The symbol of Hynkel's fascist regime is the "double cross", and at times, when he's excited or angry, Hynkel speaks in a macaronic parody of the German language. During his first speech, his Tomainian is "translated" by an overly concise English-speaking news voice-over.
The Barber, unaware of Hynkel's rise to power, returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto. When he opposes the painting of the word "Jew" on his barber shop by storm troopers, he flees from them, aided in part by his neighbor, Hannah, who knocks some of them unconscious with a frying pan. The Barber is nearly lynched by a gang of storm troopers, but Schultz, now a high-ranking officer in Hynkel's regime, intervenes. Though surprised to see the man who saved his life at the end of the war is not an Aryan, as he previously imagined, he returns the favor by ordering the storm troopers to take no action against him or Hannah, even when she throws an object at a storm trooper's head.
Hynkel relaxes his stance on Tomainian Jewry in an attempt to woo a Jewish financier into giving him a loan to support his regime. Egged on by Garbitsch, Hynkel has become obsessed with the idea of being Dictator of the World, dancing at one point with a large, inflatable globe, to the tune of the Prelude to Act I of Richard Wagner's Lohengrin.
Hynkel plans to invade the neighboring country of Osterlich (Austria), and needs the loan to finance the invasion. When the Jewish financier refuses due to the persecution of the Jews, Hynkel reinstates and intensifies his persecution of the Jews contrary to Garbitsch's advice. When Schultz, who is empathetic to the Jews, voices his objection to the pogrom, Hynkel denounces Schultz as a supporter of democracy and a traitor, and orders him placed in a concentration camp. The Barber evades storm troopers who have heard of the arrest by hiding on his neighbor Mr. Jaeckel's roof with Hannah, however his shop is burnt down. Schultz flees to the ghetto and begins planning to overthrow the Hynkel regime with Hannah, the Barber and other residents there. Schultz proposes a suicide mission to blow up the palace, the agent will be chosen by a coin in a pudding. However Hannah causes this to be abandoned by placing coins in all the puddings. Later the Ghetto is searched for Schultz. He and the Barber, hiding on the roof, are captured and condemned to the camp.
Hynkel is initially opposed by Benzino Napaloni, dictator of Bacteria, in his plans to invade Osterlich, and even plans to declare war. However just after he signs a declaration of war he receives a call from Napaloni. He invites him and his wife to his palace and a seeing of a military show to impress him with a display of military might and psychological warfare, but this ends in disaster. After some friction, a comedic food fight between the two leaders, and a deal between the two leaders on which Hynkel immediately reneges, his invasion proceeds. Hannah and others from the Ghetto had emigrated to Osterlich to escape Hynkel, but once again they find themselves living under Hynkel's regime.
Schultz and the Barber escape from the camp wearing Tomainian uniforms. Border guards mistake the Barber for Hynkel, to whom he is nearly identical in appearance. Conversely, Hynkel, on a duck-hunting trip, falls overboard and is mistaken for the Barber and arrested by his own soldiers. The Barber, now forced by circumstance to assume Hynkel's identity, is taken to the capital of Osterlich to make a victory speech. Garbitsch, in introducing "Hynkel" to the throngs, decries free speech and argues for the subjugation of the Jews. The barber then makes a rousing speech, reversing Hynkel's antisemitic policies and declaring that Tomainia and Osterlich will now be a free nation and a democracy. He calls for humanity in general to break free from dictatorships and use science and progress to make the world better instead.
Hannah, now an impoverished laborer in a vineyard in Osterlich, hears the barber's speech on the radio, and is amazed when the Barber addresses her directly: "Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up, Hannah. The clouds are lifting. The sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality. Look up, Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow — into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. Look up, Hannah. Look up!" As she rises, Mr. Jaeckel asks Hannah, "Hannah, did you hear that?" The girl silences him with a gesture, saying, "Listen," and turns her face, radiant with joy and hope, toward the sunlight.
- Charlie Chaplin as a Jewish barber in the ghetto, the main protagonist. The Barber is a soldier during World War I and loses his memory for about 20 years. He is then wanted by Hynkel. He later becomes friends with Schultz and becomes the Fuhrer of Tomainia.
- Paulette Goddard as Hannah, the Barber's neighbor. She lives in the ghetto next to the barber shop. She supports the Barber against the Double Cross's Stormtroopers.
- Charlie Chaplin as Adenoid Hynkel, the main antagonist. Hynkel is the Dictator of Tomainia (a parody of Germany and Adolf Hitler) and attacks the Jews with his stormtroopers. He has Schultz arrested and has his stormtroopers hunt down the Barber. Hynkel is later arrested by his own soldiers, who mistake him for the Barber.
- Jack Oakie as Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria, a parody of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
- Reginald Gardiner as Commander Schultz, a Tomainian who fought in World War I, and commands soldiers in the 1930s. He has his troops abstain from attacking Jews, but is arrested by Hynkel, after which he becomes a loyal ally to the Barber. He later leads the invasion of Osterlich and helps the Barber to become Fuhrer.
- Henry Daniell as Garbitsch, a parody of Joseph Goebbels, and Hynkel's loyal Secretary of the Interior and Minister of Propaganda.
- Billy Gilbert as Herring, a parody of Hermann Göring, and Hynkel's Minister of War. He is also an inventor whose failed inventions annoy Hynkel.
- Grace Hayle as Madame Napaloni, the wife of Benzino who later dances with Hynkel.
- Carter De Haven as Bacterian ambassador
- Maurice Moscovich and Emma Dunn as Mr. and Mrs. Jaeckel, an elderly couple who befriend Hannah.
- Bernard Gorcey as Mr. Mann
- Paul Weigel as Mr. Agar
According to Jürgen Trimborn's biography of Nazi propaganda film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, both Chaplin and French film-maker René Clair viewed Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will together at a showing at the New York Museum of Modern Art. Film maker Luis Buñuel reports that Clair was utterly horrified by the effectiveness of the film, crying out that this should never be shown or the West was lost. Chaplin, on the other hand, laughed uproariously at the film. It provided many elements of The Great Dictator, and it was repeated viewings of Will that allowed Chaplin to so closely mimic Hitler's mannerisms. It is suspected Chaplin's decision to go ahead with making The Great Dictator was finalized by his viewing of Riefenstahl's film. The rally speech by Hynkel, delivered in German-sounding gibberish, is a caricature of Hitler's oratory style, which Chaplin studied carefully in newsreels.
The film was directed by Chaplin (with his half-brother Wheeler Dryden as assistant director), and also written and produced by Chaplin. The film was shot largely at the Charlie Chaplin Studios and other locations around Los Angeles. The elaborate World War I scenes were filmed in Laurel Canyon. Chaplin and Meredith Willson composed the music. Filming began in September 1939 and finished six months later.
Chaplin was motivated by the escalating violence and repression of Jews by the Nazis throughout the late 1930s, the magnitude of which was conveyed to him personally by his European Jewish friends and fellow artists. The Third Reich's repressive nature and militarist tendencies were also well-known at the time. Indeed, Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 To Be or Not To Be dealt with similar themes, even including another mistaken-identity Hitler figure. However, Chaplin later stated that he would not have made the film had he known of the true extent of the Nazis' crimes. This view became widely held after the scope of Nazi atrocities became apparent: for it took nearly twenty years for films to find the right angle and tone to satirize the era.
As Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to prominence, Chaplin's popularity throughout the world became greater than ever; he was mobbed by fans on a 1931 trip to Berlin, which annoyed the Nazis, who published a book in 1934 titled The Jews Are Looking at You, in which the comedian was described as "a disgusting Jewish acrobat" (despite the fact that Chaplin was not Jewish). Ivor Montagu, a close friend of Chaplin, relates that he sent Chaplin a copy of the book and always believed this was the genesis of Dictator. The similarity of the moustaches of Hitler and Chaplin has been widely noted. In the 1930s cartoonists and comedians often noted the resemblance. Chaplin chose to capitalize on this resemblance in order to give his Little Tramp character a "reprieve".
Charlie Chaplin's son Charles Jr. describes how his father was haunted by the similar backgrounds of Hitler and himself. He writes,
Their destinies were poles apart. One was to make millions weep, while the other was to set the whole world laughing. Dad could never think of Hitler without a shudder, half of horror, half of fascination. "Just think," he would say uneasily, “he’s the madman, I’m the comic. But it could have been the other way around."
Chaplin prepared the story throughout 1938 and 1939, and began filming in September 1939, one week after the beginning of World War II. He finished filming almost six months later. The 2002 TV documentary on the making of the film, The Tramp and the Dictator, presented newly discovered footage of the film production (shot by Chaplin's elder half-brother Sydney) which showed Chaplin's initial attempts at the film's ending, filmed before the fall of France.
According to The Tramp and the Dictator, the film was not only sent to Hitler, but an eyewitness confirmed he saw it. This allegation has however, been denied by Hitler's architect and friend Albert Speer. Hitler's response to the film is not recorded, but he is said to have viewed the film twice.
Some of the signs in the shop windows of the ghettoized Jewish population in the film are written in Esperanto, a language which Hitler condemned as a Jewish plot to internationalize and destroy German culture, perhaps because its inventor was a Polish Jew.
The Jewish barber and Chaplin's Tramp character
There is no consensus on the relationship between the film's Jewish barber and Chaplin's earlier Tramp character, but the trend is to view the barber as a variation on the theme. Famed French film director François Truffaut noted that early in the production, Chaplin said he would not play The Tramp in a sound film, and he considers the barber an entirely different character. However, Turner Classic Movies says that years later, Chaplin acknowledged a connection between the barber and The Tramp. Specifically, "There is some debate as to whether the unnamed Jewish barber is intended as the Tramp's final incarnation. Although his memoirs frequently refer to the barber as the Little Tramp, Chaplin said in 1937 that he would not play the Little Tramp in his sound pictures." In My Life, Chaplin would write, "Of course! As Hitler I could harangue the crowds all I wished. And as the tramp, I could remain silent." In his review of the film, Roger Ebert says that "Chaplin was technically not playing the Tramp", but Ebert also states that, "He [Chaplin] put the Little Tramp and $1.5 million of his own money on the line to ridicule Hitler."
Critics who view the barber as different include Stephen Weissman, whose book Chaplin: A Life speaks of Chaplin here "abandoning traditional pantomime technique and his little tramp character". DVD reviewer Mark Bourne bows to Chaplin's earlier statement: "Granted, the barber bears more than a passing resemblance to the Tramp, even affecting the familiar bowler hat and cane. But Chaplin was clear that the barber is not the Tramp and The Great Dictator is not a Tramp movie." The Scarecrow Movie Guide also views the barber as different.
However, Annette Insdorf, in her book Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust, writes that "There was something curiously appropriate about the little tramp impersonating the dictator, for by 1939 Hitler and Chaplin were perhaps the two most famous men in the world. The tyrant and the tramp reverse roles in The Great Dictator, permitting the eternal outsider to address the masses..." Similarly, in The 50 Greatest Jewish Movies, Kathryn Bernheimer writes, "What he chose to say in The Great Dictator, however, was just what one might expect from the Little Tramp. Film scholars have often noted that the Little Tramp resembles a Jewish stock figure, the ostracized outcast, an outsider..."
Several reviewers speak of a morphing of The Little Tramp into the Jewish barber. In Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s, Thomas Schatz writes of "Chaplin's Little Tramp transposed into a meek Jewish barber", while, in Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society, 1929-1939, Colin Shindler writes that "The universal Little Tramp is transmuted into a specifically Jewish barber whose country is about to be absorbed into the totalitarian empire of Adenoid Hynkel." Finally, in A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age, J. P. Telotte writes that "The little tramp figure is here reincarnated as the Jewish barber".
A full two-page discussion of the relationship between the barber and The Tramp appears in Eric L. Flom's book Chaplin in the Sound Era: An Analysis of the Seven Talkies in which he concludes:
Perhaps the distinction between the two characters would be more clear if Chaplin hadn't relied on some element of confusion to attract audiences to the picture. With The Great Dictator's twist of mistaken identity, the similarity between the Barber and the Tramp allowed Chaplin break [sic] with his old persona in the sense of characterization, but to capitalize on him in a visual sense. The similar nature of the Tramp and Barber characterizations may have been an effort by Chaplin to maintain his popularity with filmgoers, many of whom by 1940 had never seen a silent picture during the silent era. Chaplin may have created a new character from the old, but he nonetheless counted on the Charlie person to bring audiences into the theaters for his first foray into sound, and his boldest political statement to date.
The film was well received at the time of its release, and was popular with the American public. The film was also popular in the United Kingdom, drawing 9 million to the cinemas, despite Chaplin's fears that wartime audiences would dislike a comedy about a dictator. (In fact it was the second most popular movie in the US in 1941.)
During its production the British government announced that it would prohibit its exhibition in the United Kingdom in keeping with its appeasement policy concerning Nazi Germany. However, by the time the film was released, the UK was at war with Germany and the film was now welcomed in part for its obvious propaganda value. In 1941, London's Prince of Wales Theatre screened its UK premiere. The film had been banned in many parts of Europe, and the theatre's owner, Alfred Esdaile, was apparently fined for showing it. It eventually became Chaplin's highest grossing film with a total of 11 million worldwide.
The film was Chaplin's first true talking picture and helped shake off accusations of Luddism following his previous release, the mostly dialogue-free Modern Times, released in 1936 when the silent era had all but ended in the late 1920s. The Great Dictator does, however, feature several silent scenes more in-keeping with Chaplin's previous films. To add to that, some audiences had come to expect Chaplin to make silent films even during the sound era.
The film was nominated for five Academy Awards:
- Outstanding Production – United Artists (Charlie Chaplin, Producer)
- Best Actor – Charlie Chaplin
- Best Writing (Original Screenplay) – Charlie Chaplin
- Best Supporting Actor – Jack Oakie
- Best Music (Original Score) – Meredith Willson
I've seen [Chaplin] take a sound track and cut it all up and paste it back together and come up with some of the dangdest effects you ever heard—effects a composer would never think of. Don't kid yourself about that one. He would have been great at anything — music, law, ballet dancing, or painting — house, sign, or portrait. I got the screen credit for The Great Dictator music score, but the best parts of it were all Chaplin's ideas, like using the Lohengrin "Prelude" in the famous balloon-dance scene.
According to Willson, the scene in which Chaplin shaves a customer to Brahms' Hungarian Dance No. 5 had been filmed before he arrived, using a phonograph record for timing. Willson was to re-record it with the full studio orchestra, fitting the music to the action. They had planned to do it painstakingly, recording eight measures or less at a time, after running through the whole scene to get the overall idea. Chaplin decided to record the runthrough in case anything was usable, and "by dumb luck we had managed to catch every movement, and that was the first and only 'take' made of the scene, the one used in the finished picture".
James L. Neibaur has noted that among the many parallels that Chaplin noted between his own life and Hitler's was an affinity for Wagner's music, and Chaplin's general fondness for Wagner has also been noted in studies of Chaplin's overall use of film music. Many commentators have noted simply Chaplin's use of Wagner's Lohengrin prelude where Hynckel dances with the globe-balloon. Actually, Chaplin had a dual use of Lohengrin prelude in the film, both where dictator Hynkel dances with the globe-balloon, and then near the conclusion, as the exiled Hannah listens to the Jewish barber's speech celebrating democracy and freedom. The music completes and climaxes only in the barber's pro-democracy speech, but is interrupted by the globe-balloon popping in the dictator's dance.
Commenting on this, Lutz Peter Koepnick writes
How can Wagner at once help emphasize a progressivist vision of human individualism and a fascist preview of absolute domination? How can the master's music simultaneously signify a desire for lost emotional integrity and for authoritative grandeur?
Chaplin's dual use of Lohengrin points towards unsettling conjunctions of Nazi culture and Hollywood entertainment. Like Adorno, Chaplin understands Wagner as a signifier of both: the birth of fascism out of the spirit of the total work of art, and the origin of mass culture out of the spirit of the most arduous aesthetic program of the nineteenth century. Unlike Adorno [who identifies American mass culture and fascist spectacle], Chaplin wants his audience to make crucial distinctions between competing Wagnerianisms...Both...rely on the driving force of utopian desires, on...the promise of self-transcendence and authentic collectivity, but they channel these mythic longings in fundamentally different directions. Although [Chaplin] exposes the puzzling modernity of Nazi politics, Chaplin is unwilling to write off either Wagner or industrial culture. [Chaplin suggests] Hollywood needs Wagner as never before in order to at once condemn the use of fantasy in fascism and warrant the utopian possibilities in industrial culture.
Chaplin's half-brother Sydney directed and starred in a 1921 film called King, Queen, Joker in which, like Chaplin, he played the dual role of a barber and ruler of a country who is about to be overthrown. More than twenty years later, in 1947, Charles Chaplin was sued over alleged plagiarism with The Great Dictator. Yet, apparently, neither the suing party nor Chaplin himself brought up his own brother's King, Queen, Joker of the silent era. The case, Bercovici v. Chaplin, was settled, with Chaplin paying Konrad Bercovici $95,000. Bercovici claimed that he had created ideas such as Chaplin playing a dictator and a dance with a globe, and that Chaplin had discussed with him his five-page outline for several hours. But Chaplin later insisted in his autobiography that he had been the sole writer of the movie's script. He came to a settlement, though, because of his "unpopularity in the States at that moment and being under such court pressure, [he] was terrified, not knowing what to expect next."
A digitally restored version of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in May 2011. The extras feature color production footage shot by Chaplin’s half-brother Sydney, deleted barbershop sequence from Chaplin’s 1919 film Sunnyside, barbershop sequence from Sydney Chaplin’s 1921 film King, Queen, Joker, and The Tramp and the Dictator (2001), Kevin Brownlow and Michael Kloft’s documentary paralleling the lives of Chaplin and Hitler, including interviews with author Ray Bradbury, director Sidney Lumet, screenwriter Budd Schulberg, and others. There is also a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Wood, Chaplin’s 1940 New York Times defense of his movie, a reprint from critic Jean Narboni on the film’s final speech, and Al Hirschfeld’s original press book illustrations.
- Representations of Hitler during his lifetime
- You Nazty Spy! and I'll Never Heil Again, a pair of Three Stooges shorts with a similar subject matter, with the former being released nine months before The Great Dictator.
- Der Fuehrer's Face. A Donald Duck cartoon that spoofs the severity of the Nazi dictatorship and the effect it had on the people directly affected by it
- To Be or Not to Be, a dark comedy on living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw (also remade in 1983 by Mel Brooks).
- Herr Meets Hare, a 1945 Bugs Bunny cartoon satirizing Hitler and Hermann Göring
- The Producers, a 1968 comedy film by Mel Brooks about an attempt to mount a sure-to-fail musical based on a failed play, titled Springtime for Hitler, by an ex-Nazi about the "glories" of Nazi Germany.
- Life Is Beautiful, Roberto Benigni's 1997 Italian film about a Jewish Italian, who uses his comical imagination to help his family during their internment in a Nazi concentration camp.
- Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick's satire about nuclear war between the US and Russia featuring a former Nazi (played by Peter Sellers) as an adviser to the Americans.
- Hotel Lux, Leander Haußmann's tragicomedy about a comedian escaping from Hitler's Germany to Stalin's Russia.
- Janus Films and The Criterion Collection, the film's current distributors.
- Iron Sky, a 2012 Finnish film in which a colony of Nazis on the Moon have been educated with a revisionist history based on a heavily edited version of The Great Dictator in which the 'Dictator' is portrayed as a kind and benevolent leader wishing to bring peace to the planet.
- One Wing, album by an American metalcore band, The Chariot, that features the final speech in their song "Cheek."
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- Chaplin, Charlie (1964) My Autobiography, p.392, "Had I known of the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator, I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis."
- The spelling of the country's name is derived from the numerous local newspapers flashed onscreen between 14 and 15 minutes into the film that indicate the end of World War I, such as The Tomainia Post, which employ headlines such as "Riots In Tomainia!", thus establishing the proper spelling.
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- Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
- "The Great Dictator". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
- Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image. Charles J. Maland. Princeton, 1989.
- National Film Theatre/British Film Institute notes on The Great Dictator.
- The Tramp and the Dictator, directed by Kevin Brownlow, Michael Kloft 2002, 88 mn.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Great Dictator|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Great Dictator (film).|
- The Great Dictator at the Internet Movie Database
- The Great Dictator at allmovie
- The Great Dictator at Rotten Tomatoes
- 'Look up, Hannah' Speech at End of Movie in Text, Audio and Video from AmericanRhetoric.com
- Criterion Collection Essay by Michael Wood
- Photos from the set of The Great Dictator