The Great Dictator

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Great Dictator Movie Poster Image
Comic genius blitzkriegs the Third Reich.
  • G
  • 1940
  • 126 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking and smoking.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysarge123 October 2, 2015
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 January 2, 2015

Charlie does Adolf

I've made it well known on here I love Chaplin. I truly believe that he was the funniest man of his day and probably still one of if not the funniest comed... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byevolinag April 22, 2012

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. T... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bywho3697cares December 26, 2008

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 revea... Continue reading

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?

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.

Talk to your kids 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

For kids who love classics

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