THE GREAT DICTATOR: The Essentials
A Jewish barber, suffering from amnesia since World War I, finally returns to his home in Tomania to discover the country overrun with anti-Semitic storm troopers under the leadership of Dictator Adenoid Hynkel. The only ghetto inhabitant strong enough to defy the soldiers is a young orphan, Hannah, with whom he falls in love. When the barber joins a resistance leader he had served under in the war, the two are arrested, just as Hynkel is plotting world domination in meetings with rival dictator Napolini of Bacteria. The barber and his friend escape prison as Hynkel is hunting nearby. When an accident separates Hynkel from his party, the prison guards mistake him for the escaped barber and take him into custody. Meanwhile, Hynkel's storm troopers mistake the barber for their leader. After leading the country in a successful invasion, he delivers an international address repudiating Hynkel's dictatorship and spreading the message of peace and liberty.
Producer-Director-Screenplay: Charles Chaplin
Cinematography: Roland Totheroh, Karl Struss
Editing: Willard Nico
Art Direction: J. Russell Spencer
Music: Meredith Wilson
Cast: Charles Chaplin (Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania/A Jewish Barber), Paulette Goddard (Hannah), Jack Oakie (Napolini, Dictator of Bacteria), Reginald Gardiner (Schultz), Henry Daniell (Garbitsch), Billy Gilbert (Herring), Carter DeHaven (Bacterian Ambassador), Chester Conklin (Barbershop Customer)
Why THE GREAT DICTATOR Is Essential
The Great Dictator was the first film in which Charles Chaplin spoke on screen. He had used sound effects and sung a nonsense song in his previous picture, Modern Times (1936). It also marked the first film for which Chaplin prepared the entire script in advance.
The Great Dictator marked the last time Chaplin would wear the Little Tramp's moustache on screen. There is some debate as to whether the unnamed Jewish barber is intended as the Tramp's final incarnation. Although his memoirs frequently refer to the barber as the Little Tramp, Chaplin said in 1937 that he would not play the Little Tramp in his sound pictures.
Adenoid Hynkel was the first character other than The Little Tramp that Chaplin had played in two decades.
In the years before the U.S. entered World War II, The Great Dictator was the boldest of the few Hollywood films to deal with events in Europe. Other films dealing with European politics of the day were softened for fear of offending the German government (often at the request of German Consul George Gyssling). And some couched their messages symbolically, like Warner Bros.' The Sea Hawk (1940), whose tale of Elizabeth I's resistance to Spain bore clear parallels to England's battle against Nazi Germany.
by Frank Miller