The Great Dictator

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The Great Dictator is a comedy film released in October 1940. It was written, directed, produced by, and starred Charlie Chaplin. Having been the only Hollywood film maker to continue to make silent films well into the period of sound films, this was Chaplin's first true talking picture as well as his most commercially successful film.[1] More importantly, it was the first major feature film of its period to bitterly satirize Nazism and Adolf Hitler.

At the time of its first release, the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin's film advanced a stirring, controversial condemnation of Hitler, fascism, antisemitism, and the Nazis, the latter of whom he excoriates in the film as "machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts".

Contents

Plot

The film begins during a battle of World War I. The protagonist is an unnamed Jewish private (Charlie Chaplin), a barber by profession and is fighting for the Central Powers in the army of the fictional nation of Tomainia (an allusion to ptomaine poisoning), comically blundering through the trenches in a tract of combat scenes. Upon hearing a fatigued pilot pleading for help, the private valiantly attempts to rescue the exhausted officer, Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). The two board Schultz's nearby airplane and fly off, escaping enemy fire in the nick of time. Schultz reveals that he is carrying important dispatches that could win the Tomainian war. However, the plane quickly loses fuel and crashes in a marsh. Both Schultz and the private survive. As medics arrive, Commander Schultz gives them the dispatches, but is told that the war has just ended and Tomainia lost.

The scene cuts to victory celebrations, newspaper headlines, the hospitalization and release of the private, and to a speech given twenty years later by Adenoid Hynkel (cf. Adolf Hitler, also played by Chaplin in a double role), now the ruthless dictator of Tomainia, who has undertaken an endeavor to persecute Jews throughout the land, aided by Minister of the Interior Garbitsch (compare Joseph Goebbels, played by Henry Daniell) and Minister of War Herring (compare Hermann Göring, played by Billy Gilbert). The symbol of Hynkel's fascist regime is the "double cross" (compare the Nazi swastika) and Hynkel himself speaks a dramatic, macaronic parody of the German language (reminiscent of Hitler's own fiery speeches), "translated" at humorously obvious parts in the speech by an overly concise English-speaking news voice-over.

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