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The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator is a film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. First released on October 15, 1940, it is a satire on fascism and in particular Adolf Hitler and Nazism. Chaplin's film is nearly unique from this period (1940), when the U.S. more...

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was still at peace with Germany, for its fearless satirization and condemnation of Hitler and Nazism, and for its vivid portrayal of the plight of Jews in Europe. (The short subject You Nazty Spy was earlier by nine months.) It was Chaplin's first dialogue film, and holds the distinction of being both his most controversial and commercially successful film. Apart from the film itself, this public confrontation of the most-loved clown of his times (Chaplin) against the most hated leader (Hitler) is historically unique.


The film begins during World War I. Chaplin, as an unnamed private in the army of the fictional nation of Tomania, valiantly attempts to rescue an officer named Schultz (Reginald Gardiner), only to lose his memory when the plane the two had taken off in crashes into a tree. Schultz escapes from the wreckage, and Chaplin spends the next 20 years in the hospital, thoroughly oblivious to the changes that are taking place in Tomania: Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin in a double role), now the ruthless dictator of Tomania, has undertaken to persecute Jews throughout the land, aided by ministers Garbitsch (Henry Daniell) and Herring (Billy Gilbert).

The amnesiac soldier returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto, still unaware of the political situation, and is shocked when storm troopers smash the windows of his shop. Later, he finds a friend, and ultimately a love interest, in Hannah (Paulette Goddard), a beautiful resident of the ghetto.

Meanwhile, Schultz, who has come up in the ranks in the intervening 20 years, recognizes the barber and orders the storm troopers to leave him and Hannah alone. Hynkel, in addition, has relaxed his stance on Tomanian Jewry in an attempt to woo a Jewish financier into giving him a loan. Egged on by Garbitsch, Hynkel has become obsessed with the idea of world domination. (In one famous scene, he toys with a large, inflatable globe to the tune of a theme from Wagner's Lohengrin.) On Garbitsch's advice, Hynkel has planned to invade the neighboring country of Osterlich and needs the loan to finance the invasion. Eventually, the financier refuses, and Hynkel reinstates his persecution of the Jews, this time to an even greater extent.

Schultz voices his objection to the invasion, and Hynkel orders him placed in a concentration camp. Schultz flees to the ghetto and begins plans to overthrow the Hynkel regime. Eventually, both he and his barber friend are captured and condemned to the concentration camp.

Hynkel attempts to enlist Napaloni (Jack Oakie), Diggaditchie of Bacteria, to help him in his invasion of Osterlich. After some friction (and a food fight) between the two leaders, the invasion proceeds and is successful. Hannah, who has since emigrated to Osterlich, once again finds herself living under Hynkel's regime.


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