The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator
Written by Charles Chaplin

Surely this is the opposite of film-making’s basic principles? Now, I understand the context. The mockery of Hitler and Nazi Germany, but the comedy is so slapstick, so over-the-top that, the serious ending is both undermined by the comedy that’s come before, and is undermining that same build. As far as themes go, this is the least subtle example of giving a message to the audience.

Chaplin’s a gifted comic performer. The sequences he devised are amusing of themselves, but ultimately they add to sight gags that simultaneously distract the audience from the reason Chaplin’s making it and contributing nothing to it. It really doesn’t deserve to be called a satire, because it’s not mocking anything political. Hitler’s a politician, the Nazi party’s a political one, and the plot involves international relations, but it’s more of a backdrop to the jokes Chaplin’s either written or improvised.

And as a result, the final blow hits you over the head with a meaning that means I can’t help but ask, “so what was everything before this for?”. Was it to bait-and-switch – give us a light comedy with a Nazi-esque backdrop to drive home a dig at the Fuhrer at the same time, only to then turn off the comedy, having got us hooked, and lecture us with what the film’s about? I don’t mind messages in films, but I prefer that they actually be in the film itself, rather than nailed onto the end. Artistically, it’s the equivalent of a drama student wearing all blacks stepping forward to the audience and reciting statistics.

I want to think it’s Chaplin being a genius by not just mimicking a person and a nation, but also their style of film-making, like an anti-propaganda. But given propaganda’s already about making arguments and promoting ideologies, any anti-propaganda is still propaganda, and can still be accused of having the same flaws: dumb techniques and reinforced attitudes directly to the audience. That’s what I identify The Great Dictator to be, and I reject it as such.

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Author: the Purple Prose Mage

I'm not Batman, but I wish that I were.

3 thoughts on “The Great Dictator”

  1. Nice post and you’re right; the ending is a jarring gear shift.

    Trivia: Hitler was an avid Chaplin fan and, apparently, the SS went to extraordinary efforts to ensure Adolph never knew of this film’s existence.


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