A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (1940) came some 12 years after the introduction of sound, but it was Chaplin's first all-talking picture, and the first in which we heard the Little Tramp speak. The dialog turned out to be his last words; Chaplin never used the Tramp character again after this film.
In a way, the Tramp's heartfelt closing plea for peace and human brotherhood is spoken by Chaplin himself, stepping out of character to make a personal statement on the eve of the war with Hitler. The speech does not fit into the fabric of the rest of the film (as many critics noted at the time), but the passage of years has made it seem uncannily appropriate.
Chaplin conceived and filmed "The Great Dictator" during a period when an accommodation with Hitler was still thought possible in some quarters; indeed, he must have been filming when Neville Chamberlain went to Munich. But Chaplin himself had no such optimism, and his portrait of Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomania, was among the first declarations of war on Hitler. The film also prophesied the persecution of the Jews, and the scenes of storm troopers terrorizing the Ghetto were thought at the time to go too far. What a sad joke that seems today.
The film itself is filled with sad, pathetic little jokes; this is Chaplin's most serious, most tragic, most human work. He did not find Hitler at all funny, needless to say, and so although he uses his own comic genius to inspire the movie, the comedy is never neutral. It is jugular, as he creates a Hynkel who is a vain, strutting buffoon, given to egomaniacal rages and ridiculous posturing. Charlie never for a moment allows us to laugh with Hynkel, but only at him, and Hynkel thus becomes the only totally unsympathetic character Chaplin has ever played. To balance him, Chaplin also plays the part of a Jewish barber who happens to be Hynkel's exact double (and who also happens to look exactly like the Little Tramp).