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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

The Great Dictator (1940) feat. Sarah Duncan

Updated: Oct 16, 2022

Guest: Sarah Duncan

Plot Summary: After dedicated service in the Great War, a Jewish barber (Charles Chaplin) spends years in an army hospital recovering from his wounds, unaware of the simultaneous rise of fascist dictator Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin) and his anti-Semitic policies. When the barber, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Hynkel, returns to his quiet neighborhood, he is stunned by the brutal changes and recklessly joins a beautiful girl (Paulette Goddard), her neighbors, and the disgraced Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) in rebelling. Will the forces of hatred or the cause of humanity win out in this epic satire?


  • Charlie Chaplin as a Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel.

  • Paulette Goddard as Hannah.

  • Jack Oakie as Benzino Napaloni

  • Reginald Gardiner as Commander Schultz

  • Henry Daniell as Garbitsch, a parody of Joseph Goebbels, and Hynkel's loyal Secretary of the Interior and Minister of Propaganda.

  • Billy Gilbert as Herring, a parody of Hermann Göring, and Hynkel's Minister of War.


  • Nominated for five Academy AwardsOutstanding Production, Best Actor (Chaplin), Best Writing (Original Screenplay) (Chaplin), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Oakie), and Best Music (Original Score).

  • In 1997, The Great Dictator was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".

  • In 2000, the American Film Institute ranked the film No. 37 in its "100 Years... 100 Laughs" list.

Did You Know:

  • Released eleven years after the end of the silent era, this was Charles Chaplin's first all-talking, all-sound film.

  • Charles Chaplin wrote the entire script in script form, except for the fake German, which was improvised. In addition, he also scripted every movement in the globe dance sequence.

  • Charles Chaplin got the idea when a friend, Alexander Korda, noted that his screen persona and Adolf Hitler looked somewhat similar. Chaplin later learned they were both born within a week of each other (Chaplin 4/16/1889, Hitler 4/20/1889), were roughly the same height and weight and both struggled in poverty until they reached great success in their respective fields. When Chaplin learned of Hitler's policies of racial oppression and nationalist aggression, he used their similarities as an inspiration to attack Hitler on film.

  • When Charles Chaplin had heard that studios were trying to discourage him from making the film, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a representative, Harry Hopkins, to Chaplin to encourage him to make the film.

  • Adolf Hitler banned the film in Germany and in all countries occupied by the Nazis. Curiosity got the best of him, and he had a print brought in through Portugal. History records that he screened it twice, in private, but history did not record his reaction to the film. Charles Chaplin said, "I'd give anything to know what he thought of it." For political reasons in Germany, the ban stayed after the end of WWII until 1958.

  • Charles Chaplin spent hours studying films of Adolf Hitler to perfect an imitation of his speaking style. He would eventually do this with a combination of nonsense syllables and isolated German words.

  • The German spoken by the dictator is complete nonsense. The language in which the shop signs, posters, etc in the "Jewish" quarter are written is Esperanto, a language created in 1887 by Dr L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish Jew.

  • Charles Chaplin said that had he known the true extent of Nazi atrocities, he "could not have made fun of their homicidal insanity."

  • According to documentaries on the making of the film, Charles Chaplin began to feel more uncomfortable lampooning Adolf Hitler the more he heard of Hitler's actions in Europe. Ultimately, the invasion of France inspired Chaplin to change the ending of his film to include his famous speech.

  • Some of Charles Chaplin's associates tried to talk him out of the final speech about peace. One film salesman said the speech would cost him a million dollars at the box office. Chaplin replied, "Well, I don't care if it's five million."

  • Charles Chaplin accepted an invitation to perform the movie's climactic speech on national radio.

  • This film was financed entirely by Charles Chaplin himself, and it was his biggest box-office hit.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: The forces of humanity, dignity, kindness, and their progress vs. those forces of hatred, bigotry, pride, and violence as comedically satirized by Charlie Chaplin.

Best Performance: Charlie Chaplin (Hynkel, Barber, Director, and Writer)

Best Secondary Performance: Reginald Gardiner (Schultz)/Paulette Goddard (Hannah)

Most Charismatic Award: Paulette Goddard (Hannah)

Best Scene:

  • Globe Dance

  • Returning to the Barber Shop

  • World War I and the Plane Crash

  • Coins in the Pudding Cake

  • Hynkel and Napaloni Negotiate Over Hot Mustard

  • Schultz and the Barber Try to Escape

  • Napolini Arrives

  • Final Speech

Favorite Scene: Final Speech/Plane Crash

Most Indelible Moment: Final Speech

In Memorium:

  • Clarence Williams III (81) - Mod Squad, Purple Rain, Half-Baked, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

  • Ernie Lively Jr. (74) - Father of Blake and Jason Lively; The West Wing, That 70's Show, the X-Files, Turner and Hooch, American Pie 2, and The Beverly Hillbillies

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Hannah: Life could be wonderful if people would just leave you alone.

Herring: We've just discovered the most wonderful, the most marvelous poisinous gas. It will kill everybody.

Garbitsch: Brunettes are trouble makers. They're worse than the Jews.

Hynkel: Then wipe them out.

Garbitsch: Start small. Not so fast. We get rid of the Jews first, then concentrate on the brunettes.

Garbitsch: We've had to make a few arrests.

Hynkel: A few? How many?

Garbitsch: Nothing astronomical. Five or ten thousand... a day.

Commander Shutz: Strange, and I thought you were an Aryan.

A Jewish barber: No. I'm a vegetarian

Garbitsch: Victory shall come to the worthy. Today, democracy, liberty and equality are words to fool the people. No nation can progress with such ideas. They stand in the way of action. Therefore, we totally abolish them. In the future, each man will serve the infest of the state with absolute obedience. Let him who refuses beware! The rights of citizenship will be taken away from all Jews and not-Aryans. They are inferior and therefore enemies of the state. It is the duty of all true Aryans to hate and despise them. Therefore this nation is annexed to the Tomanian Empire, and the people of this nation will obey the laws bestowed on us by our great leader, the Dictator of Tomania, the conqueror of Osterlich, the future Emperor of the World!

A Jewish Barber: I'm sorry but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others' happiness, not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men's souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these things cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say "Do not despair." The misery that has come upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to these brutes who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle and use you as cannon fodder. Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are men! With the love of humanity in your hearts! Don't hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers! Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it is written that the kingdom of God is within man, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power. Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to the happiness of us all. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us unite!

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6

Impact/Significance: 9.17

Novelty: 8.67

Classic-ness: 8

Rewatchability: 5

Audience Score: 9.35 (92% Google, 95% RT)

Total: 46.19

Remaining Questions:

  • Does the Barber reunite with Hannah?

  • How long does Hynkel remain in the Concentration Camp before someone realizes it is him?

  • Does Garbitsch try to Assassinate the Barber?

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