Foreign Policy Blogs

The Great Dictator (1940)

This film is phenomenal.
Written, directed, and starring Charlie Chaplin, the movie satirizes Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler.
He plays two roles: that of Adenoid Hynkel, the dictator of Tomainia (clearly Hitler), and a Jewish amnesiac barber who are dead ringers for each other.
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Chaplin uses humor to criticize the Nazis much in the same way Mel Brooks did with The Producers years later. However, it has been reported that Chaplin said he would have never made The Great Dictator had he known the extent of the barbarism committed in Germany during World War II.
Chaplin was among the first artists to condemn Nazi Germany and its persecution of the Jews.
It is important to note that the movie was made right at the beginning of World War II. While it seems hard to believe in hindsight, when The Great Dictator was released in the United States, America was neutral toward Hitler’s Germany.
Actor Jack Oakie does a fine job of portraying Benzino Napaloni, dictator of Bacteria who is no doubt fashioned after Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
While allied with Germany, Napaloni has plans to invade Osterlich (Austria). A sizable slice of the movie is Hynkel and Napaloni arguing over the invasion plans.


And it wouldn’t be a Chaplin film without at least some physical humor which is smattered about the film. He also makes Hitleresque ranting speeches in German-sounding gibberish.
Near the end of the film, Chaplin seems to break character and make an impassioned plea to the audience as himself.
Here is part of what he says:

“Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate – only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers – don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty.”

The Great Dictator is available to rent.
Murphy can be reached at: [email protected]



Sean Patrick Murphy

Sean Patrick Murphy is a graduate of Bennington College, where he majored in politics and Latin American literature. He has worked for Current History magazine, Physicians for Human Rights, and Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Association). He lives outside Philadelphia.

Areas of Focus:
Cinematography; Independent Films; Documentary;