60/60 Review #22: The Great Dictator.

I almost didn't get to review this movie. When I started looking at Netflix for this month, I quickly came to the realization that it wasn't available on Netflix at all. From there, I checked out iTunes only to find the same thing. I also came to a similar fate with Amazon and practically everywhere else. Thankfully, Hatter came to my rescue by sending me a copy. And I'm happy, because this was actually one of my personal picks for the list--one I didn't take as a recommendation when I asked way back. I had once seen something on the greatest scenes or speeches in movies, and the last 5 or so minutes of this film was on there. I knew I had to check it out.

For those that don't know, the film is a political satire on Adolf Hitler that was made when Hitler was at the height of his power. The film follows two stories. First we have the great dictator himself, Adenoid Hynkel (Charlie Chaplin), as he tries to become the world's emperor. At the same time, we follow the story of a Jewish barber (also Charlie Chaplin), who looks--obviously--exactly like Hynkel. We're given about an hour and 45 minutes of slapstick and overall physical comedy and hi-jinks followed by 10 minutes of seriousness.

I've seen bits of pieces of Charlie Chaplin's comedy here and there, but never anything full. So I guess you could say this is my first entire Chaplin film I've seen. Let's start with the comedy first. I thought the movie was pretty funny, and I actually laughed out loud a handful of times. I knew from early on what I was getting into when one of the first gags is a giant bullet on the ground spins around to chase/face Chaplin running in circles at a high speed. There are numerous instances of this type of classic Chaplin comedy--physical humor, no dialogue, sped up footage, and matching music.

However, one quasi-issue I found with the film would be the same issue I'd find with a short story writer attempting a full novel: it was full of short skits and/or secluded segments linked together by minimal story just for the sake of having a fuller, longer plot. In other words, it felt like Chaplin had a lot of big ideas for the film as a whole and a lot of great ideas for small and fun skits like he'd normally do and tried to mix them together into one, big movie. Was this a big problem? No. All the smaller skits and comedy bits were a lot of fun, and the story that linked them together was great satire, so on the whole, I believe it worked.

Probably my favorite scene in the entire movie is one I don't think any film today could get away with. It's completely silent, completely whimsical, completely majestic, and completely saturated with symbolism, charm, and grace. In this scene, Chaplin--as Hynkel--has just been talked into aiming to become the emperor of the world. When left alone, he begins a dance with an inflatable globe... and then, at the end... I don't have the words to describe it, so you should just check it out here:

Then we come to the conclusion of the film. The barber gets confused for Hynkel (and vice versa), and he's brought to a giant rally after a major invasion. He's then forced to give a speech to the giant crowd, though he's not sure what to say. Throughout the rest of the film, the barber hasn't said all that much, and he's shown to be a bit bumbling. So when he steps up and makes one of the most eloquent, passionate, heartfelt, and powerful speeches ever, audiences are split--either they think it's completely out of character and it ruins the film or they get the purpose and love what it's doing. The barber isn't speaking to the people in the film; he's not speaking as Hynkel, pretending to make this big speech to all of his followers. Instead, Chaplin is breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the world and the people of his time. Sure, everything before it had been this great comedy, but there was a message with that satire, and it all led up to this epic speech with Chaplin begging and pleading to essentially mankind to not only see their current flaws but to also see the greatness they are capable of and should aspire to.

For a film that came out when it did, The Great Dictator is incredibly brave. To mock one of the biggest rising evil powers of the world and follow all of that up with a speech that begs mankind to come to its senses is applaud-worthy. I was actually partially distracted while watching, so I really want to revisit it at some point. That being said, however, I think my feelings on the film actually increased as I thought about it and wrote this review. Based on entertainment value alone, the score might have been one lower. But after adding in everything else I've discussed in this review outside of the pure entertainment factor, I think it deserves a slight raise in score. All of that being said, here you go... and I must say, this was a pretty good way to start off the month. Thanks again, Hatter.

A Keanu 'Whoa'


  1. I'm not entirely sure why this movie is so hard to find. Last year when we went looking for a DVD copy of it, the prices for some copies were upwards of a hundred bucks. So I understand where you're coming from.

    However, this is one of my all time favorites. Chaplin almost always had a message that went along with his films - which of course got him into trouble later on with HUAC - and I've admired that about him for a long time.

    The great thing about the speech here, I feel, is that you could insert it into society today and would be none the wiser that it was 70 years old. Still, far too much applicability for our own good.

  2. A: You're welcome. This film is an all-time favorite and I'm more than happy to pitch in for someone who's chasing it down so fiercely.

    B: The main reason why it's hard to find right now is because The Criterion Collection will be releasing a new edition of it in May, and with that all the rights for distributorship are in limbo (Criterion has an exclusive deal with Hulu for instance, which is likely what's causing it not to be found on Netflix).

    So to all of those who want to see it based on this (fittingly) glowing post, keep your eyes open in May...or bug Nick for the copy I sent him :)

    C: Great post - very well spoken.

  3. It's a decent film, but I still think it's a lesser Chaplin film. Even something like The Kid, which is kinda a mess, was more interesting to me than this film.

    I appreciate the history behind it, but so much of the film didn't do anything for me, and kinda like you said, the famous speech is so out of character.

    If you haven't seen any other Chaplin films you definitely need to see City Lights and Modern Times.

  4. Univarn: True that. You could insert it today and it'd still work fine.

    Hatter: Wow, a glowing comment. I think this is the first 60/60 Review you haven't questioned. :)

    James: I'll look into 'em!

  5. FWIW, 'Dictator' is also available on YouTube, broken up into eight parts:


    There are lots of classic films posted there.

    Good review. If you like this, you've gotta watch his silent stuff too.

  6. Not to pile on with the other comments, but Modern Times is a really special film. It's how I introduced both of my girls to Chaplin and to silent comedy, and they still talk about it.


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