The Great Dictator (1940)
Dictator Adenoid Hynkel has a doppelganger, a poor but kind Jewish barber living in the slums, who one day is mistaken for Hynkel.
Director: Charles Chaplin
Writer: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie .
Twenty years after the end of WWI in which the nation of Tomainia was on the losing side, Adenoid Hynkel has risen to power as the ruthless dictator of the country. He believes in a pure Aryan state, and the decimation of the Jews. This situation is unknown to a simple Jewish-Tomainian barber who has since been hospitalized the result of a WWI battle. Upon his release, the barber, who had been suffering from memory loss about the war, is shown the new persecuted life of the Jews by many living in the Jewish ghetto, including a washerwoman named Hannah, with whom he begins a relationship. The barber is ultimately spared such persecution by Commander Schultz, who he saved in that WWI battle. The lives of all Jews in Tomainia are eventually spared with a policy shift by Hynkel himself, who is doing so for ulterior motives. But those motives include a want for world domination, starting with the invasion of neighboring Osterlich, which may be threatened by Benzino Napaloni, the dictator …
I was surprised and impressed to find out this movie was released in 1940, before the United States entered World War II. On the surface, satirizing something as solemn and horrible as Nazi Germany could be misconstrued as rash. But Chaplin’s brilliance isn’t limited to making a joke out of everything. In fact, the seriousness of his message wouldn’t have been nearly as valid if not for the excellent use of humor in this movie along with the moments of stark drama blended in. Drama alone wouldn’t have had the bite and resonance that this film did. Laughing at someone (Adenoid Hynkel) can be the best way to attack them, while laughing with someone (the Jewish Barber) can be the best way to love them. In the Jewish Barber’s final speech, I forgot for a moment that the war he was talking about happened more than half a century ago. They are words that have meaning now, and in any time of war. For this reason I believe the film did far greater good than harm, as it still has the same profound effect today.