I had a terrible time getting this film. But I finally got it and I watched it. Better late than never!
The Great Dictator (1940)
I’m pretty particular about the comedies I enjoy. Apatow is okay, I guess, but not my cup of tea. The Farlley Brothers are the worst, for my taste. Jim Carrey is occasionally good, but usually he just looks like he’s trying too hard. And I don’t find impressions funny at all.
I do love the Marx Brothers and especially their film Duck Soup. Yes, it is over the top silly, but the lines hit my funny bone and Harpo is always brilliant. I especially like the none-too-subtle digs at the war mindset, especially at the beginning of WWI.
If someone had said, “What would you think about Charlie Chaplain making a remake of Duck Soup, as a talkie, not a silent, setting it at the beginning of WWII, playing an imitation of Hitler, and throwing in a healthy dose of holocaust? Think that would be funny?”
Honestly, it sounds like the worst film ever.
And yet… somehow… after watching this very film, I have to put it alongside the greatest of Chaplain’s films. Rarely have I laughed so often at a film. And even though we don’t have The Little Tramp (perhaps only a semblance of that character), it is still that combination of poignient, funny and sweet that works so well in Chaplain’s other films.
What Chaplain does with Hitler is not imitate him so much as re-imagine him as an easily misguided dictator, who only speaks German-speak when angry or in public speaking. Chaplain, in his dual-role, is at his most brilliant, and shines in every scene. And please, if you haven’t seen the film but heard it as some kind of prince-and-pauper story, the film is nothing like that. The two characters don’t converge until the very end of the film.
Chaplain uses audio to the full extent. This being his first talkie, he uses it like a novelty, something to take advantage of rather than an assumed aspect of film. There are moments in which the scene continues all in audio, without any visual movement. And he clearly worked hard at his vocals, and uses his voice to full effect. What a comedic genius. Whatever he focused his mind on, he could turn into brilliant humor.