MHM Film Club – The Great Dictator (1940)

In his controversial masterpiece, Charlie Chaplin offers both a cutting caricature of Adolf Hitler and a sly tweaking of his own comic persona.
Directed by Charlie Chaplin. (1940)
125 mins.
Presented by Bernard Korbman OAM.

Daniel Anker’s documentary Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust (viewed at the MHM Film Club’s May film screening) highlights the little discussed fact that a number American films engaging to varying degrees with Nazism were released before and during the war. One of the – if not the – most significant of these developments was the 1940 release of the revolutionary filmmaker and actor Charlie Chaplin’s controversial film, The Great Dictator. While the unprecedented horrors of Nazi persecution were yet to occur – and would not be acknowledged in cinema for many years – Chaplin provides a biting critique of the totalitarian regime then pervading German society. Chaplin himself plays two main characters: the dictator ‘Hynkel’ and a Jewish barber who is one day confused for the dictator in a case of mistaken identity. What ensures is by turns funny, moving, discomforting and terrifying, and provides more than a moment that seems to eerily ‘foretell’ the catastrophe that would soon envelop Europe.