Chaplin’s first foray into the world of “talkies” was also the biggest hit of his career, although its defiance of the isolationist Production Code and its comic treatment of serious themes (including the persecution of the Jews) aroused much controversy.
“Remarkable … Chaplin is at his most profound in suggesting that there is much of the Tramp in the Dictator, and much of the Dictator in the Tramp.” – Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
The U.S. was not yet in World War II when Chaplin leveled his comedy arsenal at Der Führer by playing the dual roles of Hitler-like Adenoid Hynkel and a Jewish barber who is a dead-ringer for der Nutsie. Puns, sight gags and slapstick abound as Chaplin skewers fascism, balancing his attack with poignant scenes of a ghetto in the clutches of storm-trooping terror. While treading tricky waters in terms of subject matter, the film contains a slew of hilarious comic set-pieces, including the sublime balloon-globe ballet and Jack Oakie’s riotous Mussolini parody. Featuring a moving, and justifiably famous, ending in which Chaplin drops character and becomes “himself,” delivering an impassioned plea for peace, tolerance, and humanity, The Great Dictator is a true comedy classic with more on its mind than just laughs. (Dir. by Charles Chaplin, 1940, 124 min., Not Rated)