The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator


(CPS-June 14, 2010)


Something happened in cinema. It changed the game. For some, it was advantageous. For some, it was ruinous. Some say that it opened the possibilities of cinema while some declare that it forever ruined the possibility of pure cinema.

Sound entered the cinema.

Alongside silent films, typically accompanied with score, we could have dialogue and street noises. We could listen to our heroes on screen yell and talk and stamp and stomp.  Alfred Hitchcock adjusted rather well to sound cinema. Sure, at first he made some silly attempts at utilizing this new found element, but I’m sure that most people would agree that (perhaps “The Lodger” aside) Hitchcock truly found his footing when film went audible (I would argue his most beautiful looking film is the silent “The Manxman” however”).  Griffith and Murnau, who all but perfected silent cinema, would no longer be the giants of the film world, however.

And then there was Chaplin.

Sound came to film before “The Great Dictator.” And sound came to Chaplin films before it as well. But we had never heard The Little Tramp speak. And then something happened, and Chaplin decided it was time.

That thing was Hitler.

And over the course of something like 500-plus shooting days he made “The Great Dictator,” which would premiere in 1940. Even though portions of the film reveal an obvious affiliation with silent film, “The Great Dictator” still seems fresh to this day.

But as good as the film is, I still marvel at how and when it was made. The United States was not yet in war. And Chaplin’s audacity…he originally wanted to premiere the film in Germany I have heard.

Chaplin made many classic films, both before and after. Some are funnier. Some are more cinematic. And the ending of the film reveals itself to be a bit propaganda-style, sure. But the film, while a tad long, feels brave and right. And it feels funny. And this humor is cutting edge and faces the reality of the times, rather than occupying peoples minds with senseless slapstick.

Not that there isn’t a bit of that here. There is. But I’ll tell you what there isn’t:

Chaplin looking to his girl while running an animal cracker on her belly. She says, “Do you think anybody else in the world is doing this right now?”


He looks at her somberly and replies: “I hope so. Or else what in the hell are we fighting for?”

There is none of that.

And I don’t know about animal crackers…but a land where “The Great Dictator” can be made…that might be worth fighting for.

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