Review: The Great Dictator (1940)


Chaplin takes on Hitler and The Third Reich!

Written By: Charles Chaplin
Directed By: Charles Chaplin

I am prepared to be on an island with the view I am about to put forth, but I don’t like The Great Dictator. I love Charlie Chaplin, but I don’t like this film and I have found that I am not a fan of Chaplin’s humor in his talkies as opposed to in his silents. I know a great number of people will vehemently disagree with my take on The Great Dictator, and I wish I had loved The Great Dictator, but it was not to be.

In my review of The Kid I made reference to my preference of Chaplin’s silent films over his talkies. The Great Dictator is the perfect example of why I feel this way. What I love about Chaplin’s humor is its exaggeration. The silent era enables that exaggeration, the Little Tramp is funny because of how exaggerated his every action becomes. He’s also very funny because of implied comedy or moments that aren’t comedic at all but feel like they are comedic. Unfortunately I didn’t feel this at all in The Great Dictator. What Chaplin tries to put forth in The Great Dictator feels like it has lost something from the humor found in his silent pictures.

Maybe what Chaplin has lost is its subtlety. The Great Dictator is anything but subtle, it is very obvious in its humor and in its targets. I understand that it is more of a direct satire than Chaplin’s other works, but it’s not a funny satire. Once I reached the middle of the film it just died. Nothing was funny, and I didn’t care about what was happening. I know this sounds harsh, but that is how I felt, even though I didn’t want to feel that way. I love Chaplin and I desperately wanted to find The Great Dictator funny or interesting, but I barely laughed and the story never engaged me.

More than anything my issue with The Great Dictator is its humor, or lack of it. There are some moments of hilarity like the word play with Nazi/fascist terms and the erroneous interpretation of Hynkel’s first speech. I also thought it was a swell idea to have Chaplin play both the leader of Tomania and a Jewish barber. It was obvious where that was going, but it was a persistent jab at the lack of difference between Hitler and the Jews he hated that I enjoyed.

I know I have enraged quite a number of people, but you can’t win everyone over. I wanted to laugh and be taken by The Great Dictator, but in the end it featured long stretches of failed jokes and comedic moments. And the moments that were supposed to be dramatic or message heavy were too obvious and on the nose or most of all too boring. Sadly I can’t recommend The Great Dictator, not that my recommendation matters because I know almost all of my readers will disagree with me and those who don’t disagree probably haven’t seen The Great Dictator yet.




2 responses to “Review: The Great Dictator (1940)

  1. Anarya Andir

    I actually loved this film a lot, but I can see where you’re coming from.
    I would really call Chaplin brave for making this film during the Third Reich. Now that takes guts! I wish we’d known what Hitler thought of it after he watched it.

  2. For one reason or another I have never been fond of Chaplin’s talkies, but I love his silents.

    I believe Hitler actually enjoyed the film, the satire was lost on him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s