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The Great Dictator is a famous Charlie Chaplin film about a European dictator who uses the Jewish people as a scapegoat for his country's problems and tries to ally himself with the republic of Bacteria, since both wish to annex the country in between them. At the same time, a World War I veteran with a case of Easy Amnesia -- who happens to be a dead ringer for the dictator -- returns to his barbershop in the Jewish ghetto to find out things aren't quite as nice as they used to be...
Chaplin planned and shot the film in 1939-1940; France was conquered during the filming, which may have influenced the final tone of the film. While Chaplin understood from first-hand accounts how hostile the Third Reich was to Jews, at the time of filming, he was ignorant of the true nature of Hitler's Final Solution (which nobody could have known about, as the Final Solution wasn't formalized and implemented until 1942). After World War II, Chaplin expressed some regret about the film, telling interviewers that he might not have made it if he'd known the whole story.
The Great Dictator was (of course) banned in Nazi Germany, although prints of the film still found their way into occupied Europe. According to an eyewitness, Adolf Hitler obtained a copy of the film and watched it twice; when Chaplin found this out, he said that he would "give anything to know what he thought of it". Britain had announced that they were going to ban the film while the film was in production (so that it wouldn't interfere with the country's appeasement policy with Nazi Germany), but when the film was released, Britain had entered the war against the Nazis, and the film couldn't be brought in fast enough; it ended up providing some badly needed laughs at a time where laughs were in short supply for Britain (and most of Europe).
Ironically, for all of the controversy surrounding it, The Great Dictator was not the first American anti-Nazi comedy film -- Chaplin was upstaged by The Three Stooges, of all people, with the short film You Nazty Spy by nine months.
The film is also a landmark for Chaplin himself - it was his first all-sound film. He'd refrained from making a "talkie" far after The Jazz Singer. His greatest film, Modern Times, was a silent film released in 1936.
The Great Dictator includes examples of the following tropes:
- Armies Are Evil: The Tomanian Army.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: A quite memorable (and hilarious) example of faux-German
- Author Tract / Balcony Speech / Rousing Speech: "Look up, Hannah".
- Awesome but Impractical: Lampshaded with the inventions by Hynkel's scientists.
- Black Speech: The pseudo-Germanic gibberish that constitutes all but three words of Hynkel's opening address. It's so difficult to pronounce that Hynkel descends into coughing fits twice during the speech.
- Cannon Fodder: Discussed during the final speech.
"Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to brutes, men 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, use you as cannon fodder."
- The Eeyore: One of the Jewish men at the ghetto .
- Egopolis: The capital of Tomainia is completely dedicated to their Fooey, from Hynkelstrassen to Hynkel Stadium.
- The Empire: Tomainia.
- Esperanto, the Universal Language: All the signs in the Jewish Ghetto are written in Esperanto.
- Evil Chancellor: Garbitsch.
- Evilutionary Biologist: Garbitsch again.
- Gainax Ending: An extraordinary one in which Chaplin steps out of character and delivers a Rousing Speech.
- General Failure: Grand Marshall Herring.
- The Generalissimo: Hynkel
- History Marches On: What the world later learned about the concentration camps and death camps makes the scene where the barber is sent to a very mild-looking concentration camp rather jarring.
- The rivalry between Hynkel and Benzino seems strange to modern audiences, who are only familiar with Fascist Italy as an ineffectual ally of Nazi Germany -- the conflict between Hitler and Mussolini over the occupation of Austria is long forgotten.
- Heel Face Turn: Commander Schultz.
- Hidden Elf Village: Osterlich.
- Although Osterlich is a parody of Austria (Österreich in actual German). There was indeed a territorial struggle during the Anschluss, where both Germany AKA Tomania and Italy AKA Bacteria wanted neutral Austria for themselves. Germany got it first.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Hynkel gets arrested by his own men who are looking for the Jewish barber.
- Hufflepuff House: Bacteria.
- Hypocritical Humor: Dark-haired Hynkel and Garbitsch talk about how brunettes can't be trusted, unlike Aryan blondes.
- Identical Stranger / Evil Twin: Both fictional dictator Hynkel and the unnamed barber, and (to a lesser extent) Hitler & Chaplin.
- Mickey Mousing: An astonishing scene where the Jewish Barber shaves a customer in perfect time with the Hungarian Dance #5. Supposedly the intent was to record multiple takes and piece it together in editing; instead Chaplin brought the phonograph to the set, played the music, and nailed the entire routine on the first practice take.
- Military Mashup Machine: Underwater tanks and flying dreadnoughts are mentioned.
- Mind Screw: Hynkel and Garbitsch try to psychologically dominate Benzino. It doesn't work.
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: The sons and daughters of the Double Cross.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: In this case, no European politicians were harmed... yet.
- This is even lampshaded at the beginning on the film.
- No Ending: Or, rather, an ending that leaves the plot hanging for a (quite effective and moving) Author Tract.
- No Name Given: The main character is a barber whose name is never revealed.
- No Swastikas: The Double Cross.
- Officer and a Gentleman: Commander Schultz.
- Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: Parodied - the film begins with the notice: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
- Prince and Pauper: The dictator and the barber in this case.
- Psychopathic Manchild: The dictator plays with his "globe" in a manner similar to a very young child in his office.
- Punny Name: Garbitsch.
- Reality Subtext: Chaplin got the idea for this film when someone noticed how The Tramp and Hitler looked alike.
- Rip Van Winkle: The protagonist got amnesia and spent the whole time between WWI and WWII in a mental asylum.
- Ruritania: Tomainia, Osterlich and Bacteria. AKA Germany, Austria, and Italy respectively.
- Rousing Speech: At the end of the film, the barber, mistaken for Hynkel is supposed to tell a victory speech. Instead, he gives a speech in which he calls for humanity in general to break free from dictatorships and use science and progress to make the world better.
- Rushmore Refacement: The Venus De Milo and Rodin's Thinker doing the Nazi Salute.
- Spinning Paper: To show the passage of time.
- Spock Speak: Garbitsch.
- Tactful Translation: Done with one of the dictator's speeches here.
- It's also an example of Translation: "Yes".
- This Is a Work of Fiction: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
- Those Wacky Nazis
- The Tramp: The Jewish Barber is the last appearance of Chaplin's Tramp character, and spends much of his time silent.
- Visual Pun: The omnipresent symbol of Hynkel's regime is the double-cross.
- What Could Have Been: In his autobiography Chaplin, who'd resisted for ten years going over to talkies, revealed that his original concept of the film was to mix silent sequences featuring the Tramp with talking sequences featuring The Great Dictator.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: Hannah.
- World War One: The beginning is set here.
- Take That: Chaplin's closing speech.
- ↑ That is, Germany wanted Austria as a part of Germany and Italy wanted Austria as a satellite of Italy