Hitler satire falls victim to Chaplin overkill

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The Great Dictator


Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 Hitler satire The Great Dictator follows an amnesiac Jewish barber (Chaplin, speaking on film for the first time, with shamefully bland range) from his persecution by the stormtroopers of Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin too), leader of Tomania, to his part in the eventual triumph of pacifism during a climactic Hynkel rally. It’s an excruciating viewing experience.

Over-long and over-indulgent, everything here is overkill. Chaplin’s oft-seen and oft-praised impersonation of Hitler’s guttural delivery is funny in nostalgic bites, but after the fourth lengthy set-piece comedy rant it becomes ineffably grating. His penchant for irrelevant clownish shtick here slips into extraordinary tedium and his clarion call for a utopian world of brotherly love reeks of vanity and hypocrisy (Chaplin, after all, was an arch bully and on-set tyrant). And finally, politically, there’s nothing here that wasn’t said or done with immeasurably more wit and invention seven years earlier by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup.