review for The Great Dictator on AllMovie

The Great Dictator (1940)
by Dan Jardine review

After a five-year absence from movies, Charles Chaplin took on a dual role in his first full-length talking feature, famous for its comic attack on Nazi Germany (and Adolf Hitler in particular). The script was written before Hitler's invasion of Poland, and Chaplin subsequently noted that, had he known the scope of the evil perpetrated on Europe by the Nazis, he would never have made them the subject of this lampoon. Not as maniacally funny as Chaplin's classic comedies of the 1920s, The Great Dictator has more in common with Chaplin's later films, which were more lyrical in approach and more overt in their socio-political messages. In this case, the proselytising turned out to be prescient, as Hitler would soon prove Chaplin's concerns well-founded. This was one of very few films made in the West before World War II that dared to take on Hitler and Mussolini. Still, many critics found fault with Chaplin's approach, claiming that, by portraying German Nazis and Italian Fascists as schoolyard bullies and buffoons, Chaplin was cheapening the impact of their evil actions on millions of Europeans. Despite these criticisms, Chaplin's lampooning of Hitler is a moment of comic genius, complemented by Jack Oakie's ridiculously exaggerated portrayal of the Mussolini-like Italian fascist (nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor). The Great Dictator is loosely structured, lacking the tight pace and sense of direction of Chaplin's best films: its long-winded concluding speech is the most egregious example. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Chaplin for Best Actor.