The Great Dictator

  • Review Date: August 4, 2008
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Classic
  • Release Year: 1940

Common Sense Media says

Comic genius blitzkriegs the Third Reich.
  • Review Date: August 4, 2008
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Classic
  • Release Year: 1940

Age(i)

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Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Positive messages

No question who the good guys and the bad guys are, even with Chaplin in dual roles as the egomaniacal dictator Hynkel and the Jewish barber/war veteran. The attitude flirts with humanism -- the heroine posits that if God doesn't really exist, people should still be nice to one another as if He did. In a final speech, practically presidential-candidate in intensity, the barber quotes the Bible and calls for freedom, equality, compassion, and unity of all races, and there's little doubt this isn't the character but instead Chaplin himself speaking his mind.

Violence

Battlefield slapstick with explosions, giant cannons, and mortar shells for comic effect. Men shot at close range. Jews tormented with beatings, thrown vegetables, and an attempted hanging. Distant views of a ghetto on fire.

Sex

Nothing shown, but secretaries swoon for dictator Hynkel, who smooches them flagrantly.

Language
Not applicable
Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking and smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there is a depiction of fascist thuggery, concentration camps, and violence directed against the "non-Aryans" (Jews, primarily; no specific mention of gypsies, Catholics, Poles, Slavs, etc.) of Europe. Chaplin's approach is way milder than the Schindler's List horrors and newsreel footage of corpse-piles that were to confront shocked moviegoers in later years. Some viewers might think it's even too mild, though that's an unfair burden to put on this film.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Between WWI and WWII, a title tells us up front, insanity reigns and humanity "got kicked about a bit" in a suspiciously German-looking country called Tomania. The great Charlie Chaplin plays dual roles. One is a nameless, hapless Jewish barber, who dutifully (if ineptly) fights for his nation in the First World War and suffers amnesia. When he recovers he finds all Jews herded into ghettoes and persecuted, scapegoated for the country's economic woes under the policies of a look-alike, mustached pipsqueak dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) and his fascist advisors. While the strutting Hynkel dreams of world conquest, builds palaces, meets with the equally pompous dictator of a rival empire called Bacteria (think Mussolini's Italy) and gears up for an invasion, the barber's lucky WWI friendship with a high-ranking Tomanian military officer lands him in and out of trouble.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

Viewers today are used to satire like Saturday Night Live or Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, which look terribly out of date just months later. Not exactly great art. But THE GREAT DICTATOR is different. Silent-era megastar Charlie Chaplin, in his first film with extensive dialog, does attack the international villains of the time, the Third Reich (Hynkel for Hitler; a fat field marshal named Herring, instead of Goering; a "Garbitsch" -- pronounced "garbage" -- instead of Goebbles). But the jokes are done with sublime slapstick, poignancy, and timeless insight into the foibles of human nature.

The movie doesn't feel like old newspapers, but fresh and urgent. The immortal, wordless dream ballet in which Hynkel/Hitler, imaging himself emperor of Earth, dances lovingly with a globe-shaped balloon, is a timeless metaphor for every wannabe conqueror from Napoleon on up. Chaplin's narrative isn't terribly cohesive, more like a series of blackout sketches, but younger viewers are especially forgiving about that. Some critics think The Great Dictator went overboard with a climactic speech, in which Chaplin completely breaks character to deliver an emotional tirade against 1930s totalitarianism and the "machine men" plunging the planet into madness. But as a film-comedy genius using the talents he has to confront world-class enemies and injustice directly, this is as good as it gets.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the rise of the Third Reich and Mussolini's Italy, and how Charlie Chaplin skillfully turned some of the most frightening real-life villains into buffoons. You could research the other sorts of movies coming out at the time, from Axis Germany, Italy, Japan, and the USSR -- and how they served their own "great dictators'" aims. While some movies from Nazi Berlin certainly did glorify fascism (check out Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, if you dare), others were deliberately non-political, meant to take the average citizen's mind off war. Ask kids if they think Chaplin's pointed comedy holds up well today, or is a WWII relic. Who are today's "great dictators"? And who are the comedians today that make them into buffoons?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 15, 1940
DVD release date:July 1, 2003
Cast:Charlie Chaplin, Jack Oakie, Paulette Goddard
Director:Charlie Chaplin
Studio:Warner Home Video
Genre:Classic
Run time:126 minutes
MPAA rating:G

This review of The Great Dictator was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 15 years old Written bywho3697cares December 26, 2008
AGE
10
QUALITY
 

Chaplin's best

Hilarious. Parents might want to explain much of the film to children, though. Also, please note that it was made before the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, so it isn't completely accurate.

Adult Written byAlphaZK93 January 6, 2011
AGE
10
QUALITY
 

A movie that is content appropriate for anyone above the age of 8, but none of your kids will get it unless they know WWII

No concerns, but all I can say is this movie is funny, funny, clean, did I mention funny? I am a history buff, and Chaplin's satirical Anti-Axis film was just so awesome. My favorite scene is when Adoyf and Benzino are hitting eachother with spaghetti and stuff, AND the scene where Adoyf tries to intimidate Benzino with chairs, but it backfires.

What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written byevolinag April 22, 2012
AGE
6
QUALITY
 

Very intelligent satire/parody is hilarious, but also amazingly well written.

This is a satire that makes fun of Adolf Hitler and the holocaust.
Charlie Chaplin's great writing, directing and acting skills are at the highest level.
The movie has positive messages, it fights against racism and the holocaust.
In a time where WW2 was still going on, it was very risky.
What if Hitler won the world war? It was brave from Chaplin to make this film.
The script is great, it is funny but also has its serious moments (but is very light-hearted though).
It is mature, of course, but there is nothing about this movie that is inaproppriate for kids. Even though they might not understand it.

What other families should know
Great messages

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