The Great Dictator
26 March 2022
The Great Dictator is the most famous film by British filmmaker Charlie Chaplin. Made in the United States before it entered World War II, it was written, directed, and produced by Chaplin who also starred in both leading roles – a nameless Barber of Jewish descent and Adenoid Hynkel, a dictator of Tomania who is the Barber’s spitting image. Being his first true sound film, Chaplin also spoke for the first time on screen; he made use of new technology in a particularly clever way by using an artificial 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 draw all their attention to the body language. By playing the Barber, Chaplin commented in an ingenious way on his signature role of a Tramp: he did not merely engage in continuing it but created a new character, pertinent to the context, not just to technology by utilizing some of his earlier traits – a character who had to speak up so that he could 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 grave subject (he said that he could not have made The Great Dictator if he had known about the full extent of Nazi crimes), watching the film one keeps forgetting when it was made, as it is still so accurate and prophetic.