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Film / The Great Dictator

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"Eh das Strahf mitz Hutenzecht! Der Weinerschnitzel mitt da lagerbieren, und das SAUERKRAUT!"
His Excellency Adenoid Hynkel, Phooey of Greater Tomainia, Conqueror of Osterlich, Future Emperor of the World

The Great Dictator is a famous Charlie Chaplin satire film about a certain 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 late 1939 and early 1940, right during early World War II; France, Denmark and Norway were 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 Hitler's desire to exterminate them and most of Eastern Europe in the near future (the Hungerplan was devised alongside planning for Operation Barbarossa later that year and the Final Solution in early 1942). After the war, Chaplin expressed some regret about the film, telling interviewers that he might not have made it if he'd known the whole story. That would be an artistic challenge Roberto Benigni would take up 50 years later with the Oscar winning Dramedy, Life Is Beautiful.

The Great Dictator was (of course) banned in Nazi Germany, although prints of the film still found their way into occupied Europe.note  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 with the short film You Nazty Spy! by nine months. It also wasn't the first anti-Hitler film of any sort — that honor goes to Hitler's Reign of Terror, released all the way back in 1934.note 

The film is also a landmark for Chaplin himself - it was his first all-sound film, released over a decade after the rest of Hollywood transitioned to sound. (In the meantime Chaplin had stubbornly made City Lights and Modern Times as silent films.) And although the barber is explicitly not the Tramp character, he nonetheless has the Tramp's physical appearance - baggy clothes, big shoes, cane, bowler hat and that moustache - and thus this film marks the final time Chaplin would invoke some version of this character on screen.

For the Sacha Baron Cohen movie, see The Dictator, which is also a satire.

"The Phooey has just referred to the following tropes..."

  • Adolf Hitlarious: Came pretty close to being the Trope Maker, but was beaten out by The Three Stooges' You Nazty Spy!.
  • Agony of the Feet: In the beginning set in World War I, the Jewish barber puts down the butt of his gun onto the foot of a fellow soldier, who scolds him.
  • Arcadia: Osterlich is depicted as a heavenly place out in the country.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: A quite memorable (and hilarious) example of faux-German. Chaplin is making it up as he goes, and it's rather obvious that when he runs out of "words" he'll say "Fluten sacht der Fluten" or some similar-sounding gibberish. Notably, when he's dressing Herring down, "big Booben" and "pinheaden" both turn up in his speech.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The barber quotes The Bible (specifically Luke 17:20-21) in his Rousing Speech: "In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written 'the kingdom of God is within man' - not one man, nor a group of men - but in all men - in you, the people!"
  • Author Filibuster: The barber's final speech as Hynkel expresses Chaplin's own views about fascism and militarism.
  • Batman in My Basement: Defector from Decadence Commander Schultz hides in the basement of a Jewish family.
  • Beautiful All Along: Hannah after her makeover, though she never looked ugly to begin with. More like an Unkempt Beauty.
    Hannah: (sees herself in the mirror post-makeover) Ain't I cute!
  • Bicep-Polishing Gesture: Hynkel briefly affects this when discussing the strength of the Aryan people.
  • Black Comedy: Lampoons everything from war to anti-Semitism and even rape.
  • 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.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Napaloni expresses his fondness for Hynkel by slapping him hard on the back and nearly shaking his arm off.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The closing speech is not delivered by the barber impersonating Hynkel, but by Charles Chaplin speaking directly to an audience that, at the time the film was made, was just entering into World War II.
    • Earlier, Hannah gets a similar speech directly into the camera about how great it would be if Jews were allowed to live in peace.
  • The Caligula: Hynkel, who is obviously unhinged, playing with balloons when he isn't flying into rages or sending people to concentration camps.
  • 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."
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: When the Jewish Barber is hanging to an upside-down plane by just the control stick, he never even raises his voice. When the plane starts to dive, Schultz (who's been shot and is delirious with blood loss) rambles about his beloved and daffodils, and continues even after the plane crashes.
    Schultz: We're upside-down.
    Jewish Barber (hanging on for dear life): I'm aware.
    Schultz: Give me that stick. (so he can pilot the inverted plane)
    Jewish Barber: Impossible.
  • Chest of Medals: Field Marshal Herring is shown with tons of medals —- almost enough to match his ego.
  • Clock Tower: There's a scene where Hynkel shows off an ornate clock tower to Napoloni and Napoloni claims that it's inaccurate.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: When the barber returns to his shop, the interior is covered in cob web.
  • Commissar Cap: Chaplin lampoons Adolph Hitler and wears a wonderful Commissar Cap with a XX (the "Double-Cross") logo in place of the swastika.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Let's see...there's a random barber who happens to look exactly the same as Adenoid Hynkel, the fascist dictator of Tomania. He happens to be Jewish. And he happens to wake from a coma in which he's been trapped for twenty years, just around the same time that Hynkel is planning on invading Osterlich. Moreover, it turns out that this barber's old war buddy is now a high-ranking member (turned Defector from Decadence) of the fascist party. Oh...and Hynkel just happens to get lost on a duck-hunting trip at exactly the right moment for the barber to take his place.
  • Credits Gag: The opening credits end with a footnote saying: "Any similarities between Chancellor Hynkel and the Jewish Barber are purely co-incidental."
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to Chaplin's other work. Chaplin's prior films were bittersweet romances with slapstick comedy; this one is about a fascist dictator who persecutes Jews and wants to take over the world.
  • Dedication: The film was dedicated to "The Jews of the world."
  • Defector from Decadence: Commander Schultz abandons Hynkel's regime when he sees the barber fighting the storm troopers.
  • Delegation Relay: When the huge gun fails to fire properly and the bullet just drops out of the barrel, the general turns to the colonel and says: "Check the bullet". The colonel turns to the captain and gives the same order. The captain gives the order to the lieutenant. The lieutenant delegates to the private (Chaplin). The private turns to his left... and finds out that there's nobody left to delegate to, so he has to do it himself.
  • Democracy Is Bad: "Demokrazie...schtonk!"
  • The Dictatorship:
    • Tomania is very obviously one, a European nation ruled by a virulently nationalist party that keeps the Tomanian people under their thumb, shovels out frequent propaganda at home and abroad and is plotting war against their neighbors.
    • Likewise, Bacteria shares all of Tomania's aforementioned traits.
  • Disastrous Demonstration: When the inventions by Hynkel's scientists fail on demonstration. Played for laughs, but not without a jod of Mood Dissonance.
  • Diseased Name: Tomainia (Ptomainia - a deadly food-poisoning) and Bacteria, expies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Hynkel's given name Adenoid also verges in this direction.
  • Dressed to Oppress: Being a satire of the rise of fascism in Europe released nearly a year into World War II, with specific focus on mocking Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, both Adenoid Hynkel and Benzino Napaloni are inevitably dressed in dictatorial outfits mimicking their real-life inspirations. Hynkel dons a military jacket with his double-X emblem on both lapels and black jackboots, and is often seen wearing a Commissar Cap that also bears the emblem. Meanwhile, Napaloni wears a military jacket and a large sash.
  • Egopolis: The capital of Tomainia is completely dedicated to their Fooey, from Hynkelstrassen to Hynkel Stadium.
  • The Empire: Hynkel and Garbitsch's ultimate vision for Tomainia
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hynkel is frightened at the prospect of being referred to as a god, despite his global aspirations.
  • Evil Laugh: Hynkel gets off a scary cackle before his dance with the globe.
  • Expy: Although Chaplin, the film itself, and movie historians were and are adamant that the Jewish Barber is not the Little Tramp character Chaplin portrayed on screen between 1914 and 1936, anyone with eyes can see the obvious similarities, from the mustache to the shoes.
  • Facepalm: Mr Jaeckel watches from his balcony when the troops arrive to lynch the barber. As they go to action, he facepalms in the background.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The film has Osterlich, the pacifist country next to Tomainia. It's an obvious parallel to Austria down to the name with a different spelling: Österreich is the German/Austrian name for Austria.
  • Fictional Country: Tomainia, Bacteria, and Osterlich are expies for Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Austria.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • While the movie replaces Germany with the fictional Tomainia, on the newsreel you can still see the name Germany printed under the "Armistice" headline.
    • Another newsreel fragment has the line "Stop press bulletins".
  • Foreign-Language Tirade: Hynkel's hate speech takes this form, with an English-speaking interpreter providing running commentary.
  • Fruit Cart: We see a fruit cart being turned over during the pogrom.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Hannah's weapon of mass destruction.
  • Gainax Ending: An extraordinary one in which Chaplin steps out of character and delivers a Rousing Speech.
  • General Failure: Grand Marshall Herring, who keeps bringing worthless experimental weapons for the Phooey to observe.
    Herring: [excited] We've developed the most wonderful poison gas. [childlike glee] It will kill everybody.
  • The Generalissimo: Hynkel, the militaristic dictator of an evil fascist Central European state.
  • Gloved Fist of Doom: Parodied (sans glove) by Chaplin as Hynkel, who often raises his fist in an intimidating manner when he's trying to look tough during his speech.
  • Godwin's Law of Facial Hair: The Barber is one of the earliest caricatures of Adolf Hitler and the movie is about a Jewish barber who is mistaken for a tyrannical dictator. He pretends to be a dictator and ultimately gives a speech in which he calls for peace and compassion.
  • Got the Whole World in My Hand: Hynkel dances with an inflatable globe. When he squeezes it too much ... the globe explodes.
  • Gratuitous German: Hynkel speaks German gibberish when speaking to the public or when he is angry. It's actually a variety act called "speaking Double Dutch" that Chaplin had learned to do when he performed in music halls and vaudeville, before he got into movies.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: Twice, Hynkel tries to shake hands with Napaloni but his "Heil Hynkel" salute come in between and their hands miss each other several times until they finally figure it out.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Schultz has one after rescuing the barber from the storm troopers.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Hynkel gets arrested by his own men who are looking for the Jewish barber.
  • Hufflepuff House: Bacteria, the Italy stand-in that seems to be a Friendly Enemy to Tomania, much like Italy and Mussolini were friendly enemies to Germany and Hitler in the pre-war years (after the war started it was more like Vile Villain, Laughable Lackey with Italy as the Butt-Monkey of the Axis). In this movie Bacteria exists to allow a sequence where Mussolini stand-in "Napaloni" makes a state visit and Hynkel bumbles around trying to impress/intimidate him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Dark-haired Hynkel and Garbitsch talk about how brunettes can't be trusted, unlike Aryan blondes.
  • Identical Stranger: Both fictional dictator Hynkel and the unnamed barber.
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: Whenever Field Marshal Herring pisses Hynkel off, Hynkel rips off all of his medals.
  • Instant Death Bullet: The scientists who tries to demonstrate his new invention, a bulletproof uniform, dies on the spot when the bullet hits him in the chest.
  • Kick the Dog: The storm troopers strolling through the streets, vandalizing a fruit shop and throwing tomatoes at Hannah.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Most of the villainous characters are too goofy to be scary; but this does not apply to Garbitsch, the Minister of Propaganda. Aside from his name, there is very little that is in any way funny about this character. He almost always acts much more seriously than the other characters, and he constantly encourages Hynkel to persecute the Jews and to act like a treacherous and hateful egomaniac. While the other 'children of the double-cross' can be viewed as parodies, Garbitsch goes above and beyond to earn his name. And he's played by British actor Henry Daniell, who spent his career refining and perfecting a portrayal of quiet, smooth, pure evil.
  • Large Ham: Chaplin (and by extension, Hynkel) is clearly having a total blast doing his rousing, macaronic faux-German speech.
  • Laughably Evil: Adenoid Hynkel is portrayed as infantile and crazy from power.
  • Mickey Mousing: An astonishing scene where the Jewish Barber shaves a customer in perfect time with Brahms' 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.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • As the Stormtroopers start searching for Schultz, the Barber tries to warn him, but does so in mime, without speaking, and immediately afterwards claims to have "told" him about the danger. This is in reference to the Tramp's silent movie past, where he would only speak through title cards.
    • Later in the movie, Hynkel mistakes Napaloni's moving mouth (as he is eating) for silent speech, and asks what he is saying.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The sons and daughters of the Double Cross are clear expies for the Nazi Party.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Obviously, Adenoid Hynkel is Adolf Hitler, Garbitsch is Joseph Goebbels, Herring is Hermann Göring/Goering, and Benzino Napaloni is Benito Mussolini. Since then, it has become No Historical Figures Were Harmed.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Tomania and Bacteria are very thinly-veiled pastiches of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy respectively.
  • 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. This one of several points of similarity between the barber and Chaplin's Little Tramp character, who likewise usually goes nameless in many of his films.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Hynkel is immature and funny, but he is still a dangerous dictator with the power to ruin the lives of millions of people.
  • No Swastikas: The symbol of Hynkel's regime is the Double Cross.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Commander Schultz is a courtly and well-mannered officer who doesn't fit in with Hynkel and his thugs, and as a consequence is sent to a concentration camp.
  • Oppressed Minority Veteran: The Barber is a Jewish World War I veteran living in a parody of Nazi Germany.
  • 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".
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: The ending, in which the barber (well, really Charlie Chaplin) delivers a passionate speech defending the dignity of the human race and appealing to man's better nature as part of the fight against fascism.
  • Pet the Dog: The storm troopers stop harassing the Jews after Commander Schultz intervenes. In one scene they even help Hannah picking up the potatoes she dropped in the street.
  • Pie in the Face: The Foreign Correspondent who sneaks into Hynkel's palace receives one of these after Garbitsch insists that the Hynkel-Napaloni negotiations are going swimmingly.
  • Politicians Kiss Babies: Played for laughs when Adenoid Hynkel is handed a baby for a promotional photo shoot after a rally, but the baby wets him.
  • Prince and Pauper: This accidentally happens to Hynkel and the barber, when Hynkel goes missing while fishing and the barber is dressed in a military uniform. Until then no one notices the resemblance between the barber and der Phooey.
  • Produce Pelting: The storm troopers are throwing tomatoes at Hannah in the street.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: The dictator plays with his "globe" in a manner similar to a very young child in his office.
  • Punny Name: Garbitsch and Herring, along with the title "Phooey" instead of "Fuehrer".
  • Puny Parachute: One of the wacky inventions demonstrated by Grand Marshall Herring is a hat parachute. It doesn't work.
  • Rape as Comedy: Hynkel strong-arms a secretary and drags her to a couch. She yells "no, no, no" but eventually gives in. At this moment a phone call interrupts Hynkel and he drops the girl like hot coal.
  • Rapid-Fire Typing: Parodied, albeit on a typewriter. In one scene, the eponymous character dictates a letter to his secretary. He first lets off a long stream of mock-German, which the secretary records in a few keystrokes; he then follows it with a short syllable, which takes an absurdly long time to type.
  • Revised Ending: The film originally ended with the soldiers all breaking into a folk dance. This was abandoned, although footage of it exists.
  • Rip Van Winkle: The protagonist got amnesia and spent the whole time between WWI and WWII in a mental asylum.
  • Roman à Clef: The movie is essentially a thinly veiled, fictionalized version of Germany's Anschluss with Austria and of Kristallnacht, the pre-war German pogrom that preceded The Holocaust.
  • Roof Hopping: The barber and Commander Schultz try to flee from the storm troopers by climbing across roof tops of the neighborhood. It doesn't work out for them.
  • Rousing Speech: At the end of the film, the barber mistaken for Hynkel is supposed to give 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.
  • Rousseau Was Right: The Anti-Nazism speech, in which Chaplin tells the audience, "You have the love of Humanity in your hearts! You don't hate! Only the unloved hate! The unloved and the unnatural."
  • Rule of Symbolism: Hynkel's dance concludes with the globe popping in his hands. Given the speech at the end, it's another part of the theme that civilization cannot survive if men like Hynkel are allowed to pursue their twisted goals.
  • Ruritania: Tomainia, Osterlich and Bacteria, three vaguely Central European countries that are really stand-ins for Germany, Austria, and Italy respectively.
  • Rushmore Refacement: The Venus de Milo and Auguste Rodin's The Thinker doing the Nazi Salute.
  • The Social Darwinist: Garbitsch. Right before the barber's famous Rousing Speech that closes the film, Garbitsch gives an evil speech in which he preaches about how might makes right and the strong will conquer the weak.
    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 frankly abolish them. In the future, each man will serve the interest of the State with absolute obedience. Let him who refuses beware! The rights of citizenship will be taken away from all Jews and other non-Aryans. They are inferior and therefore enemies of the state. It is the duty of all true Aryans to hate and despise them.
  • Someone Has to Die: Played for laughs. Commander Schultz comes up with a pudding & coin lottery to pick a member of the resistance group to commit a Heroic Sacrifice by going in and kill Hynkel single-handedly. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Hynkel's dance with the inflatable globe is set to the hauntingly beautiful Act 1 Prelude to Wagner's Lohengrin.
  • Speaking Simlish: The fake German that Hynkel speaks is actually Teutonic-sounding nonsense.
  • Spinning Paper: The printing press variety is used to show the passage of time.
  • Spock Speak: Garbitsch speaks with an excessively precise, formal diction.
  • Studio Audience: Hynkel can command applause and cause it to cease instantly by waving his hand.
  • Stunned Silence: The crowd at Hynkel's speech automatically cheers whenever there's a break in it most of the time; the one time they need to be prompted to cheer is just after his crazed rant about "der Juden".
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Parodied. Herring is very enthusiastic about various inventions that all fail hilariously in ways that kills their inventors. Fuehrer Adenoid Hynkel is less enthusiastic and finally tells him to just stop, please.
  • Tactful Translation: Hynkel's translator does this throughout the dictator's opening speech. It is especially evident after Hynkel's rant about "der Juden."
  • Take Over the World: Hynkel's goal.
    "Aut Caesar aut nullusnote . Emperor of the world. My world."
  • Take That!: Chaplin's closing speech. For a man known for being silent, when Chaplin spoke, he had something to say.
  • Tap on the Head:
    • All victims of Hannah's Frying Pan of Doom.
    • Hynkel, being mistaken for the barber, gets a trooper's baton on his head and sinks down.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • Hannah's comment: "Do you know, that Hynkel isn't such a bad fella after all." is followed by Hynkel's hateful radio address and the subsequent pogrom.
    • During their Roof Hopping, Commander Schultz warns the barber to be careful to not break his neck. Cue the barber slipping and falling through a ceiling window onto someone's bed.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: "Any resemblance between Hynkel the dictator and the Jewish barber is purely co-incidental".
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Ur-Example before the world experienced or understood the full extent of Nazi evil. Chaplin even claimed he would not have made the movie had he known the true nature of the Nazi concentration camps.
  • Translation: "Yes":
    • Earlier in the movie, Hynkel is delivering a speech, commented on by an English speaking narrator. Some passages are translated word by word (like 'liberty is abolished'), while others — like Hynkel's rambling about the beauty of the Tomanian women — are paraphrased with a lot of details. Then, one very long passage of Hynkel screaming, shaking his fists and growling is paraphrased only as: 'His excellency has just referred to the Jewish population'.
    • Another example uses dictation instead of translation — Adenoid Hynkel would say a long sentence, and his secretary would transcribe it in a couple keystrokes. Another sentence, and again a couple keystrokes. A single word, and suddenly the secretary is typing something that might be the original manuscript of Order of the Phoenix.
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: Hynkel's office is gigantic. He intends to use this to his advantage by forcing Napaloni to cross this massive space as psychological intimidation. Napaloni comes in the room from a door right behind Hynkel's desk. This was Truth in Television: Both Hitler and Mussolini had unusually large offices that they used precisely to intimidate audience-seekers.
  • Villain Song: The famous dance with the globe is essentially a Villain Ballet. There's no singing but there is music, and it functions the same way as this trope, summing up Hynkel's character and ambitions while providing a break from the action.
  • Visual Pun: Would you trust a regime that uses the double cross as its symbol?
  • Wicked Cultured: Hynkel likes playing the piano and does so extremely well.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Hannah never loses her innocence despite her life in the Jewish ghetto.
  • Would Hit a Girl: When the storm troopers assault the Osterlich village, they get into fights with the villagers. In a struggle, Hannah gets slapped hard in the face by a Hynkel mook.


Video Example(s):


Hynkel's Globe Ballet

Adenoid Hynkel dreams of ruling the world while doing a ballet with a globe beach ball. Until it sadly ends.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / GotTheWholeWorldInMyHand

Media sources: