DVD Review: The Great Dictator

Starring: Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard
Director: Charlie Chaplin

great-dictator 1The Great Dictator was Chaplin’s first proper sound film and, at 2 hours, easily his longest thus far. It also saw him taking on a dual role, as Hitler-like dictator Hynkel and as the Jewish barber who, having been traumatised in WWI, finally emerges from military hospital to find his country under Hynkel’s jackboot.

The film is hampered by Chaplin’s almost painful tentativeness when it comes to delivering lines on screen, and his failure as a scriptwriter and director to get to grips with spoken dialogue (sound movies had been around for over a decade by then, but it’s as if Chaplin had studiously avoided watching any of them).On the other hand, it’s great fun seeing Chaplin playing a baddie, and the movie is studded with brilliant set-pieces.

Most famous of these is the scene where Hynkel dances around with a balloon in the shape of the Earth, contemplating world domination, to melting strains on violins. But there’s also a clever moment early on, continuing Chaplin’s fascination with fiendish machines from Modern Times, which sees the barber clinging helplessly to violently lurching anti-aircraft gun. Even better is a scene where the barber and some fellow insurgents try to decide who should go on a suicide mission to assassinate Hynkel by each eating a pudding. The one who discovers a coin inside their dessert will have done the equivalent of drawing the short straw – except that Chaplin suddenly finds coins being slipped onto his plate from all directions … With scenes like these to enjoy, The Great Dictator still offers plenty of evidence as to why Chaplin was a great director. 7/10

EXTRAS
26-min documentary with director Costa-Gravas giving his thoughts on The Great Dictator; it also includes some nice behind the scenes footage, and talks about interesting stuff such as Chaplin’s secret marriage to his co-star Paulette Goddard. ~ 25 min of behind the scenes footage shot in colour (but without sound). We get to see Chaplin busting out some comedy shapes during a ball scene and sitting behind a camera at a Hynkel rally. One of the surprises of this footage was how vividly coloured the costumes were, with the stormtroopers wearing scarlet trousers. 7/10

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