Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Great Dictator - Reaction

A satire of Germany ("Tomainia") and Hitler ("Hynkel"). The story of a Jewish barber who returns home to Germany in the late 1930s, but, due to amnesia, doesn't know what has happened since WWI.

As a Chaplin movie (indeed, his first speaking one), it's a mildly entertaining film filled with much old-style humor. Chaplin show his great skill as a body actor. Some memorable scenes:

  • running around the battlefield. humorous mistakes that can happen in a battle.
  • flying upside down.
  • German speech. Chaplin improvises hilarious fake German, tossing in words such as schnitzel, sauerkraut, liverwurst, and even banana. The main scene that does this was my favorite scene in the movie.
  • the incredibly brief scenes in which Hynkel runs into another room to pose for a painter and sculptor for ten seconds (during which time they paint and sculpt furiously) before rushing back to work.
  • the ballet with a balloon of the world. Memorable simply because it's so odd.
  • the coin in the pudding scene. The resistance decided to choose who to give the job of assassinating Hynkel, losing his life in the process, by hiding a coin in pudding. This scene is classic, as each person finds a coin in his pudding and tries to hide it, secretly passing it. Great body acting.
  • the shaving scene, in which the barber cuts a man's hair in time to Brahm's Hungarian Dance No. 5. Pretty cool.
  • the scene in which the barber attempts to escape Germans while his head is in a bucket. Classic, old-style slapstick humor.
  • secretary taking oration. Hynkel makes long speeches; she write one word. Hynkel uses a short word; she types for ages.
    * the barber shop seat height contest, as each dictator tries to get in the higher position, the position of implicit power.
The Great Dictator, made in 1940, was controversial in its time because the U.S. wasn't yet involved in WWII and many people weren't that comfortable criticizing German so heavily. The film's message, as exemplified by the passionate, populist political speech at the end which encourages brotherly love, kindness, and humanity for all people, is classic and timeless. The movie also stands out for another reason--one doesn't see modern movies make such strong political statements.

From the movie, I learned Italy and Germany fought over Austria. I wasn't aware of this event from WWII.

Incidentally, I thought the term storm trooper was coined in Star Wars. Nope. Apparently the term originally applied to Nazi soldiers.