"I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible."
That final five minute speech given by Chaplin shows his true genius as a director, actor, and screenwriter. He was capable of understanding better than anyone the social realities he was part of and made one of the best anti-Nazi propaganda films I've seen. Giving his character who had been silent up to that film such an important speech was such a powerful and historical moment in film history. I don't know why I always believed Chaplin was one of those directors that never managed to handle the transition from silent films to talkies very well, because ironically this (his first complete talkie) is my favorite film of his. The way he was able to use his physical comedy with as little dialogue as possible and then add some funny lines was a beautiful touch. He said what he could with his physical performance and then used sound to say what actions couldn't tell wholeheartedly. Chaplin had proved that actions speak louder than words with his Tramp films, but when those words are in tune with actions they can blow you away and that is how I felt with The Great Dictator. In 1940 no one knew about the horrendous crimes the Nazi's were going to commit against the Jews, but Chaplin was warning the world from the beginning how hate and racism could destroy the world. That powerful speech continues to resonate with audiences almost 75 years later and you can add that scene to Chaplin's wonderful legacy in film. There are several other memorable scenes in this two hour film (the longest Chaplin film I've seen, yet probably the one I would be most likely to rewatch), mostly all involving Chaplin's wonderful physical comedy as he makes fun of Hitler. While the entire world seemed to be ignoring Hitler and Mussolini's abuse of power, Chaplin courageously was warning us in the best way he could, through slapstick comedy, about their horrendous racial beliefs and the dehumanization it would lead to.
The film opens during the First World War where a soldier (Charles Chaplin) who is later introduced as a Jewish barber, is saving the life of a pilot named Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). They escape on a small plane, but eventually they crash and the barber loses his memory. Several years later he is released from the hospital but everything has changed. They lost the war, and Dictator Adenoid Hynke (also played by Charles Chaplin) is now rebuilding the country of Tomania. The Jews in the ghetto are being discriminated and treated poorly by Hynke's soldiers and the barber has no clue as to what is going on. A friendly neighbor named Hannah (Paulette Gardiner) helps him, but there is not much they can do against the soldiers. When he gets into trouble with some of them, the commanding officer arrives and it happens to be Schultz who immediately helps the barber and offers him and the people in his ghetto protection. For a while things look good for them, but when Dictator Hynke discovers Schultz is helping the Jews he sends for his arrest and the Jews suffer persecution once again. Hynke plans to rule the world so his first step is invading Osterlich, the place where Hannah and her family were forced to flee. Things aren't looking good for the Barber and his friends, but keeping his head up and joining forces with Schultz, they are ready to make a stand.
The Great Dictator was truly a delightful and joyous experience. I don't know why I liked it more than his silent films because I really enjoyed all of them, but there was something about The Great Dictator that just hit all the right notes with me. I fell in love with this film and will definitely recommend it as my favorite Chaplin film. I wasn't considering watching his next two talkies, but after the experience I had with The Great Dictator I'm definitely considering watching them. I loved the way Chaplin clearly stated his beliefs in this film, mocking Hitler and his inhumane ideas with a courageous performance considering no one was doing anything to stop him at that time. But it's not just a brave film, it is really funny as well and I found myself laughing throughout many scenes. His physical comedic talents can still be seen in this talkie; one of his most memorable scenes involves a globe dance sequence. Paulette Goddard, who was also in Chaplin's Modern Times, gives yet another sweet performance, and Jack Oakie will forever be remembered for his role as Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria, which was a clear lampoon on Mussolini. This was one perfectly executed satire that happened to come along at the right moment. Unlike in other politically correct films, Chaplin makes it evident that ridiculing Hitler was his main objective. It is a classic and a must see for film lovers everywhere.