A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Nothing shown, but secretaries swoon for dictator Hynkel, who smooches them flagrantly.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Social drinking and smoking.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
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.
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 dialogue, 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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.