Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscar Movie Review: "The Great Dictator" (1940)

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Movie"The Great Dictator"
Year Nominated: 1941
Director: Charles Chaplin
Rating: G
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Did It Win?: No.

World War I is coming to an end and an unamed soldier known only as The Jewish Barber (Charlie Chaplin) fights for his country of Tomania. During the battle, he assists a fatigued Tomanian pilot named Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). After their plane crashes, The Barber is left in the hospital with amnesia. Years pass and a dictator named Adenoid Hynkel (Charlie Chaplin) rises to power and has dreams of a global conquest. Hynkel also persecutes the Jews, who are forced into ghettos and live in fear for their lives. When The Barber leaves the hospital, he has no idea of the changes to his home country, and when he inadvertently stands up to Tomanian soldiers, he becomes a wanted man. His old army friend Commander Schultz keeps him out of trouble for a while, but when the power hungry Hynkel decides Schultz is a traitor for standing up for the Jews, he and The Barber are quickly arrested and left to find a way to escape. 

"The Great Dictator" is a wonderful comedy satire that pokes fun at Hitler and the Nazi movement in Germany. It's extremely important to note that this film was released in 1940, which is more than a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States' entering into World War II. Even more importantly, production started many years earlier before even the United Kingdom had even entered the war and was trying to remain in Hitler's good graces. They actually threatened to ban the film, but by the time of its release, political situations had changed and the film was more than welcome in England. Needless to say, it was not so welcome in Germany, as it was banned in all German occupied territories until long after the second World War had ended. So, when Chaplin produced this film, it was not one done in hindsight where he was already fully aware of all the atrocities the Nazis had committed or had yet to commit, it was done in the thick of the conflict involving Germany and Hitler, and managed to be both powerful and successful anyway. In fact, Chaplin rewrote the end of the script to include the famous speech that closes the movie after he learned that Germany had invaded France in real life, and what a wonderful ending speech that is, probably one of the best in film history. It's an amazingly powerful speech that is just as true and relevant today as it was when it was first spoken 75 years ago.

That being said, this is a hilarious movie and holds up very well. Chaplin had a flowing yet bumbling way of moving that worked great for physical comedy, which was very apparent from his time making silent era films, and he still uses many of his silent film comedic techniques in this, his first full-fledged "talkie" and the biggest, most successful film of his career. This being his first talking picture, we learned that he had quite the gift of verbal comedy as well. There is some funny dialogue in the film that almost has a Marx Brothers type of feel to it, a type of comedy we completely love and admire. Hynkel's little spat with Napoloni is also a classic, especially their "dueling" barber chair scene where one always tries to be a little higher than the other. We really enjoyed this movie a lot. BigJ saw this film as a child and remembers enjoying it then, especially for Chaplin's slapstick gags, but as adults, we now enjoy it even more as we can understand the political satire element behind it, one that we overlooked as kids. We can truly appreciate the inspiring message the final scene presents, and for it to have such a lasting power is a testament to the film's greatness. This is a "must watch" for film buffs, especially considering the courageous effort Chaplain exerted to get it made, as well as for the cultural and historical controversy it contains. It is also a must-see for those who want to view the work of one of the earliest, most genuinely great on-screen comedic performers, Charlie Chaplin, in one of his best movies.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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