Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Great Dictator: Beware of Buffoons

This is my entry in the Dual Roles Blogathon hosted by the great bloggers at Christina Wehner: Classic Movies, Musicals, Old Books and the Great American Songbook and Silver Screenings. Check both sites for more fabulous cinematic doubles.


In one of history's greatest ironies, the world's most evil man shared a distinctive mustache with a cinematic symbol of compassion, humor and humanity. Most movie stars would have shied away from the comparison, but Chaplin pursued it and, in "The Great Dictator," created one of the most courageous cinematic statements against fascism and its accompanying terror.

In the Ghetto...

While the Jewish Barber is not the Little Tramp, they share some similarities. Aside from a physical likeness, they are kindly citizens and tender of heart.

A WWI hero, the barber returns home to Tomainia with amnesia. His country is changing. He is philosophical, this gentle soul and tries to make the best of the bad situation. The country he fought for would never harm him, would it?

The barber even manages to find love in the ghetto. His scenes with Paulette Goddard are quite charming. The Tramp was no stranger to romance, and the barber is his soul mate in this respect.

Chaplin adds a barber-ballet with old Keystone buddy, Chester Conklin, and it's a nostalgic delight -no words necessary.


A mirror image in life and a negative image of the soul, Adenoid Hynkle, dictator of Tomainia, is at work on his plan to take over the world. 

Adenoid Hynkle is a bigot, a bully, a braggart and a danger to civilization. When audiences see Hynkle, they know it is Hitler.

Bullies need friends, and just as Hitler  needed Mussolini, Hynkle joins forces with the dictator of Bacteria, Benzino Napaloni. Napaloni, the buffoon, is played to perfection by Jack Oakie, and his scenes with Chaplin are some of the film's funniest. 

The switch

And yes, the doubles are switched. Not to give to much away, but Hynkle, out of uniform and shooting ducks, is mistaken for the barber and shot. The barber is enlisted to take his place. Good replaces evil and hope is restored.

The Great Dictator, made at a time when the United States was not officially at war with Germany and before the public was fully aware of the horrors of the concentration camps, was an exercise in great courage. Hitler and Mussolini might well have been viewed as buffoons, worthy of ridicule and a chuckle. Chaplin truly put his beliefs on full display. The comedy is unforgettable, but the message is important and timeless, even more so in these perilous times:                       

The Great Dictator was Chaplin's first full sound film and he chose to use his voice in the most powerful way possible -  with humor and deep conviction. He remained true to himself and spoke the truth and provided the world with a great film and a tale still too relevant in these times.



Beautiful, Marsha! And, indeed, Chaplin's speech is timeless, and we need it more than ever nowadays. You made me want to bring popcorn and rewatch this movie!

Rich said...

It's interesting to note that Chaplin never altered his look while Hitler was around. Like you said, most actors wouldn't want the association, but Chaplin didn't seem to care. It's like in OFFICE SPACE, when Michael Bolton is asked why he doesn't change his name so people won't confuse him with the singer: "Why should I? He's the one who sucks!"

Inge Gregusch said...

Ashamed to admit I've not seen it all the way through. Fabulous post of a courageous film which is on my must-see list now.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Le - yes, sadly, this film is as meaningful today as in 1940.

FlickChick said...

Rich - thank you for stopping by. Indeed - Chaplin prevailed in the end!

FlickChick said...

Inge - it is scary how much this film reflects our "Modern Times."

Silver Screenings said...

This is an incredible movie. It's one of my fave Charlie Chaplin films. That scene where he plays with the balloon earth, kicking it into the air, fills me with wonder and horror at the same time.

This is an important film, and I'm so glad you joined the blogathon with this one. Like you said, it has a timeless message.

Caftan Woman said...

Your insights into this Chaplin masterpiece would surely please the creator very much. He gave us a lot in his career, and most importantly he gave us the example of his bravery.

Unknown said...

I never thought about it before, but as you wrote, it is fascinating how he embraced the similarities in mustache and appearance to make such a powerful statement about Hitler. And that his memory was never in the slightest overshadowed by that of Hitler. What a testament!

It's been so long since I've seen this, I really need to see it again.

Thanks so much for joining us in the blogathon!

Virginie Pronovost said...

Awesome article. This film is so brilliant! And courageous, yes!

Quiggy said...

I've been busy, but I'm finally getting around to reading these reviews. This is a great Chaplin piece. And next to The Gold Rush, probably my favorite Chaplin.