The Great Dictator (USA, 1940)

charlie_chaplin_great_dictator_movie_poster_2aDirected by: Charlie Chaplin. My recent quest for great comedies took me here, and really, why wouldn’t it? This film combines my appreciation of visual humour, sight gags, misunderstanding, etc, with a fascination for the strange and horrifying transformation the world underwent in the 1930’s and 40’s. This film is a fantastic achievement, not just because it tackles such lofty subject matter, at that particular time, and not just because it’s funny—genuinely, laugh-out-loud hilarious. This is a great film because it does both of those things simultaneously, because it’s a textbook case of how to combine brilliant social critique, human pathos, and slapstick comedy all in one place. Tragedy and comedy in the same place. That famous scene with the balloon of the globe still has me in awe…what did I see? All of a sudden, an interlude introducing a ballet sequence in the middle of the film, utterly unlike anything that surrounds it, which is menacing and satirical in what it says about Hitler and world domination, but which conveys that message with a sequence of utter beauty and fragility and grace, which in turn introduces an element of…maybe not pathos, maybe not affection, but a certain positive admiration, however temporarily, for this figure which for a few moments is a suspended-judgement, fairytale fantasy parody of the most reviled man in history, and who was at that time, a living, breathing, dangerous dictator who was on the verge of establishing himself as one of the world’s most powerful leaders. Much has been written about the process of making this film, of Chaplin’s courage, of the upheavals in Hollywood about making this film, the worries about this film and its impact in the Jewish community, and the legendary order from President Roosevelt telling him to go ahead and release it. Read up on it—there’s a great documentary about it with the DVD extras on the Criterion set—and go see this movie.

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2 responses to “The Great Dictator (USA, 1940)

  1. Pingback: Spy (USA, 2015) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2016 | Offhand Reviews·

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