While coming up with a good schedule for Whyboy
Spotlights... I had to make a very hard choice. My choices were to go see The Dictator, which looked like Borat if it were a movie or Ted which
at the time I was very dubious about because I didn't just fall out of love
with Family Guy I grew a seething hatred for the personality that is Seth
MacFarlane but I heard it was good do shut my mouth I guess (this hatred shall be explained in Cartoon Corner in GREAT detail). So, you know what? I decided to just throw my wallet in my dresser drawer and put on the 1940
Charlie Chaplin classic "The Great Dictator."
Charlie Chaplin, considered to be one of the most
pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood, lived an interesting life both in
his films and behind the camera. He is most recognized as an icon of the silent
film era, often associated with his popular character "The Tramp"; the wacky immigrant with the toothbrush mustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane, and funny
walk. This little guy won the hearts of millions with his classic silent films such as The Kid,
Gold Rush and Modern Times and quite astonishingly he won the heart of Adolf Hitler as well. So much
so that Hitler (this is based off speculation so don't take it as fact) grew the
same toothbrush moustache. There is another theory that Hitler was ordered to
shave his 'stache like that so he'd be able to wear a gas mask in WWI. Nevertheless
Charlie finishing his last silent film Modern Times and already well aware of the new film epidemic "sound" decided to take
advantage of his and Hitler's similar moustaches by writing, directing and
starring in the 1940 exploitative comedy classic The Great Dictator. Now if you do any form of research on the film you can find that this was a risky film. Adolf Hitler believe it or not was a popular political icon at the time so a lot of people found the film was in bad
taste but it did earn five Academy Award
Nominations including best original screenplay (a screenplay in which he was sued for plagiarism). But ignoring all the drama surrounding the movie because quite literally its the movie that makes the movie and not the context surrounding it. Is the movie on it's own merits good? Let's find out.
The Great Dictator takes the plot
thread similar to that of The Prince and The Pauper. The prince being the
egomaniac Dictator Hynkel played by the fabulous over the top Charlie
Chaplin and the pauper being a Jewish barber played also by the fabulous over the top Charlie Chaplin. Couldn't take two seconds to pick
a name for your second most important character Chaplin? Anyway the story is
simple, Hynkel emulating Adolf Hitler is using his Nazis to
attack and oppress the Jews in the slums while he plans to invade Auschwitz the only free country
left nearby. Meanwhile we have a WWI pilot, the barber, who has just woken up from
being in a coma and is finding a VERY different world. Will the barber be able to cope in this new world he's woken up in?
Let's get the visuals out of the
way first. The sets used in The Great Dictator are immense, detailed and
reflects the Hynkel character's inflated ego to the deliciously self-absorbed
degree. The special effects like the train coming into the station and the
crowd of people during Hynkel's first hate speech is well done for the 1940s.
Each set is identifiable and a visual treat to view especially in black and
Hynkel and the barber are both fantastic personalities
with Hynkel obviously taking the cake in that department. Charlie creates an
almost perfect parody of Adolf Hitler making Hynkel a spoiled, egomaniacal, moron who screams constantly to get what he wants like the most spoiled brat in the world. The barber on the other hand is basically Chaplin's famous Tramp character
except he can speak. Deny all you want Chaplin he's the Tramp and we all know it. The barber's best scenes are when he's dead quiet. In
these scenes we really see Charlie's humour burst through the screen. My
favourite scene is when the 5 Jewish men including the barber are given 5 identical puddings and inside one is a coin and whoever has the coin in their pudding will be the one to go
on a dangerous assassination mission where they would most likely die. None of
the men want to go on the suicide mission so they constantly try to pass the buck onto the next guy. Without saying a thing they convey so much energy and humour from just body language
and facial expressions. This is a golden example of Chaplin's comedy writing.
All the other characters are good
but most don't give off the right vibe for a comedy. My favourite out of the
side characters would have to be the barber's love interest Hannah played
by Paulette Goddard. Paulette does a great job creating the spunky yet innocent
Paulette who isn't afraid to whack a Nazi on the head with a frying pan. Three
times and each time it just got more hilarious. Other characters like Garbitsch and Shultz played respectively by Henry
Daniell and Reginald Gardiner play outstanding straight men to their personal
Charlie Chaplin character. Henry especially taps into a truly evil and cold
persona that makes Hynkel look even more like a pathetic ruler in comparison. The
rest are all okay none of them really funny. Mostly they are there to be used
for comedic effect by either Chaplin characters.
But these characters are where we
finally reach the heart of The Great Dictator. Exploitation. It's obvious right
off the bat that Chaplin's is making the pretty ballsy statement that Hitler is
just a bratty man child without a single hint of regret which bit him in the ass in real life. I respect his decision to go full force into exposing Hitler and the other dictators of the world for what they truly are but the film falls into a trap.
The same trap that most animated environmental movies fall into. The trap of trying to sandwich goofiness with real world issues. The Great
Dictator pulls off the balance act rather well keeping it funny with a slight exploitative edge, that is until the 3rd act. After an hour and a half of goofy jokes with a firm doze of satire we get a complete 180 and the movie tries to shock you to get across its point it was already getting across. This 180 tone shift could have worked if there was more lead up to it but the lead up we got is a complete jarring jolt in tone. The setup for the 3rd act is that the barber and his partner Shultz escape prison in Nazi uniforms it's never explained how they managed to get the uniforms or sneak outside without raising an alarm especially since Shultz escaped before, wouldn't the Nazis have him under a tighter guard to prevent an encore escape attempt? But I digress, after stealing the outfits they run into some more Nazis who mistake the barber for Hynkel they place him in a car and drive off to the murder and death montage. I'm fine with violence and a little exploitation but not when it's all crammed into the last 5 minutes of the movie.
We then move from that to the famous Charlie Chaplin speech. This speech is very powerful, filled to the brim
with emotion, and it truly shines the spotlight on the despicable nature of
Hitler and all other tyrannical dictators. Saying that, although the speech is
brilliant, in context with the film it's completely jarring with the
rest of the movie. All throughout the first and second parts of the movie we
have the barber running around the slums showing the oppressive
nature there in a lighthearted manner and we have Hynkel running around being
a tyrannical man-child. It's plain brilliant satire and completely sticks it to
Hitler in the most hilarious of ways, completely emasculating the image of
Hitler. Then the speech happens, I understand Chaplin was going through a LOT of
drama during this time in his life and the speech truly shows his frustration
in the strongest light but the real life drama doesn’t excuse the jarring nature of this speech coming from the mouth of the movie's clown, the barber.
Out of all the characters I just can't believe that the barber would EVER talk like this given the context
of what happens to him and how he acts. This is the character that tried to swallow 3 coins
then coughed them back up and tried to shave a women's face. Doesn't make for a
believable speechmaker, does it? It's obvious to see that the character of the
barber disappears completely when the speech is said and it's Charlie Chaplin
speaking with powerful frustrated force behind every syllable. But we are
watching a movie, we want the innocent barber the one saying the speech we
don't want to be thrown out of the movie and then told the speech that breaks
our immersion in the realm of the film. I also feel that the barber needed some
form of scene where the barber came in DIRECT contact with Hynkel like Hynkel
comes and does a hate filled rant to the barber and Shultz as they're brought into the concentration camp. If a scene like
THAT were in the movie then I'd believe the barber could say the ending speech
because of the first hand contact with dictators. If a scene like that were in
this movie I would've found the speech not only brilliant by itself, but also
brilliant in context with the movie.
Another thing that annoyed the ever-loving interest
out of me was Napaloni the Dictator of Bacteria played by Jack
Oakie. I found Napaloni infuriatingly irritating and just waited for a scene where Hynkel would shove a bayonet through his windpipe. It's probably because Chaplin and Jackie's comedy styles don't sync up in the slightest. Chaplin with the physical slapstick and body language and Jack with vocal and written humour. When Jackie tries the slapstick bit
like Chaplin my god it's embarrassing.
What's the final verdict? As the first "talkie" for
Charlie I say it was very well put together. The camera work and editing are
solid. The acting is the same. Charlie puts on a magnificent performance as
both Hynkel and the barber, even though by the end the barber and Hynkel disappear under Chaplin's flow breaking speech. The third overall can bite my black spot with its completely jarring, tone breaking, monotonous and all around sluggish story and character progression. The first two acts however are tightly written and convey its exploitative message in an enjoyable lighthearted manner. The 3rd act doesn't ruin the movie for me but it waters down my enthusiasm for Chaplin's initial intent.
NEXT TIME: Coraline
Written by: Taylor 'Whyboy' Wyatt
Illustration by Jordan Tucker
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