The Great Dictator
11 May 2022
The Great Dictator is one of British filmmaker Charlie Chaplin’s most renowned films, written, directed, and produced by Chaplin in the United States before America entered World War II. Chaplin starred in both leading roles – as an anonymous Barber of Jewish descent and as Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomania – the spitting image of the Barber. In his first true sound film, Chaplin also spoke for the first time on screen, making use of the new technology in a particularly clever way by using a fake language for the dictator’s address to the crowd, a comically effective gibberish (albeit with some recognisable German and English expressions) which, because it was literally incomprehensible, made the crowd pay all their attention to Hynkel’s body language. When playing the Barber, Chaplin developed his signature role of the Tramp in an ingenious way: he did not merely engage in reproducing the familiar character, he developed him, making him relevant to the context, not just to technology, utilizing some of his earlier traits yet turning him into a character who had to speak up in order to be heard.
In terms of genre, the film is a satirical comedy, aimed at mocking Adolf Hitler and National Socialism. In terms of content, Chaplin’s critique was so harsh that many countries refused to show the film in cinemas until they had gone to war with Germany. The film clearly parodies Mussolini, Goebbels and Göring, using hilarious names, as well as countries, phenomena, objects, etc. Although Chaplin was criticised after the war for making fun of such a serious subject (he said that he could not have made The Great Dictator if he had known about the actual horrors of German concentration camps), when watching the film one keeps forgetting when it was made, as it remains so accurate and prophetic.