The Great Dictator (1940), released to DVD and Blu-ray on May 24th, 2011 is the second of Charlie Chaplin‘s features to receive the Criterion treatment, following 2010’s release of Modern Times (1936). Times was Chaplin’s last silent feature, produced nine years after the advent of sound. Chaplin stated that when, and if, his famous character the Tramp ever spoke, it would be as a farewell. He found a reason for the Tramp to break his silence in the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich; this was the birth of The Great Dictator.
Few people wanted Chaplin to make this anti-Hitler satire, and the speech at the end of Dictator was even seen by some as communist propaganda. It securely put Chaplin on the subversive list. Within a few years, Chaplin was thrown out of the United States, only to be invited back by the Academy Awards for a honorary Oscar (he never actually won one) in 1971. Chaplin accepted the honor as a sign of mending.
Chaplin later said that if he had known the actual extent of the horrors perpetrated in Nazi Germany, he could never have made The Great Dictator. His detractors went so far as to accuse him of merely being angry at Hitler for stealing his mustache. Of course, Chaplin had been making films against government oppression and the struggle of the little man almost from day one. Additionally, Chaplin’s half-brother’s father was Jewish, giving him further motive to lampoon the dictator. Chaplin’s mistake was that he spoke out against Hitler and the Third Reich before the United States entered the war.
Whether or not the Jewish Barber is the Tramp has been debated for years. He is not referred to as the Tramp, but he is certainly a Tramp-like character, and that is really enough. But, for the first time, Chaplin is uneasy with his iconic character. After seeing the Tramp in all of his silent eloquence for years, hearing him speak in the opening WWI sequence is greatly disconcerting. This opening is awkward, and Chaplin reveals that verbal humor is not his strength. Jokes about gas and, later, plays off the words “Aryan” and “vegetarian” fall Continue reading THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) CRITERION COLLECTION