Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Great Dictator

Here's a fascinating and entertaining historical relic.  Charlie Chaplin had no love for Adolph Hitler.  Best known for his silent films, The Great Dictator was Chaplin's first "talkie."  He plays both Adenoid Hynkel, a thinly veiled parody of Hitler, and a Jewish barber who looks just like Hynkel.  His exaggerated comic portrayal of Hynkel, the dictator of Tomainia, must have enraged Hitler and delighted everyone else.  Released in 1940, the movie served as anti-Nazi propaganda before the extent of the evils of Nazism were fully known.

Even without the historical background, Chaplin's trademark humor comes through and the movie can be enjoyed on his merits alone.  His sputtering mock-German may have been offensive to Germans (and may be funnier if you know German--there was probably some real German mixed in there) but I found it amusing.  This globe scene is classic.
After the slapstick and satire throughout the film, Chaplin as the simple Jewish barber takes an opportunity at the end to give a powerful speech excoriating the Nazi regime. Having been mistaken for the dictator, he addresses a massive political rally, imploring for peace.
Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don't hate, only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers: don't fight for slavery, fight for liberty. . . . Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfill their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise.
Real Nazis didn't get to hear the speech, at least not for a while; the movie was banned in Germany.  I wonder why? You can watch the whole speech here:

Bottom line, 4 stars.

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