Kyle J. Steenblik

Oldie but Goodie: The Great Dictator

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Have you seen this?  It’s incredible.

The_Tramp_EssanayThe Great Dictator is a 1940 American film starring, written, produced, scored, and directed by Charlie Chaplin. This was Chaplin’s first true talking picture as well as his most commercially successful film.

 At the time of its first release, the United States was still formally at peace with Nazi Germany. Chaplin’s film advanced a growing condemnation of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini’s fascism, anti-Semitism, and the Nazis, in the United States.  Chaplin stated that he wouldn’t have made the film had he known about the actual horrors of the Nazi concentration camps.  The Great Dictator is arguably Charlie Chaplin’s best film, and is, for good reason, considered by many to be one of the best films ever made.

Chaplin worked for years to make this film, by best guesses he started working on this in 1935, after seeing Triumph of the Will a German Nazi propaganda film.  He risked his money, studio, reputation, and eve his life (mocking the Hitler, the Nazis, and Mussolini in 1940 is something many would consider a death wish.).  It may just be my own projection here, but the cojoneses Chapin must have had to make this movie are impressive to say the least.  The historical attributes of this film and the circumstances around its making I find endlessly fascinating.  However, I will spare anyone reading this a prolonged dissertation on that subject, because my own thoughts add little to the information that is already available.  If you are interested I will have some links some books and documentaries on the subject.  What I would really like to focus on is the film itself.  This film is 73 years old, but doesn’t feel 73 years old.  It’s black and white, but modern restorations have made the picture as perfect as the day it came out of the camera.

If you have never watched a Chaplin movie, and I suspect many people today have not this would be a perfect place to start.  It’s not a silent movie, but it does have “silent” moments, shot in the style of a silent feature, which I find really cool.  It is also exceptionally funny.  As a word of warning, kids will love the humor in this, but will have some trouble with the overall themes here.  That does not mean I think this isn’t a family film, just be prepared for some tricky questions.  It’s actually a very good way to introduce a pretty serious subject matter.

I would be negligent if I didn’t talk, at least briefly, about the final speech in this film.  It’s pops up on Facebook every now and then.  It is quoted frequently, and for good reason.  It hits you right in the feels, so hard.  Now, watch that again, and think about this.  Germany began the invasion of Poland in September of 1939, the same month Chaplin started filming this movie.  The country was just climbing out of the great depression.  Things were not exactly looking good for humanity.  Now enjoy the feels.

If you are a fan of cinema, history, or comedy, or all of the above, watch this movie.  I’ll wait for your thanks.

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