Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New to the Collection: The Great Dictator (1940)

Every time Saucy adds a new DVD to his increasingly mammoth film collection, he will take the time to provide five indelible scenes that convinced him to spend his hard-earned sheckles on something he could have gotten for free with a DVD burner and a Netflix subscription. This installment discusses The Great Dictator, a 1940 satire of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich by silent film legend Charles Chaplin.

1.) The Globe Sequence
Easily the film’s most indelible scene, it shows a mad man in love with his own ambitions, oblivious to (or more likely, unmoved by) the calamities his megalomania is having on thousands of “Tomanian” citizens. Also, it is just an incredibly shot, choreographed, and acted sequence by a man as graceful as he was bold. Even showcases some early wire work.

2.) The First Rally Speech
Anyone who has ever seen one of those black-and-white speeches a crazed Adolf Hitler gave to his brainwashed citizens is familiar with Der Fuhrer’s skills as an orator. His cadence, delivery, and, yes, charisma struck fear in the hearts of millions, and drove his civilians and his military to follow him down a twisted rabbit-hole of depravity. This makes it even better to watch Chaplin taking the piss out of Hitler by composing a speech that parodies his harsh rhetoric, replacing it with such violently delivered German nomenclature as “sauerkraut,” “lager beer,” and “cheese and crackers.”

3.) Frying Pan to the Head
In his second role in the film, that of a Jewish barber, Chaplin befriends a beautiful laundress played by Paulette Goddard. When the Jewish barber is assaulted by Tomania’s version of the SS (via the Keystone Kops), the girl tries to help him by wielding a frying pan. While attempting to nail one of the thugs, the girl accidentally whales the barber atop the head. What follows is another opportunity for Chaplin to showcase his ample chops as a physical comedian. The use of music and camerawork makes for a tremendously funny and enjoyable scene.

4.) Storming the Ghetto
No one would ever compare the ghetto-storming sequences in The Great Dictator and Schindler’s List in terms of power and scope. One film is basically a comedy with noble aims, while the other is a heart-wrenching drama. One film features "Nazis" doing the dirty work with backhanded slaps while the other has historically accurate ones doing it with high-powered machine guns. I get it. But I would ask: What is ballsier? A filmmaker (even one as brilliant as Steven Spielberg) making a statement about the Nazi regime 50 years later, or a guy who had the temerity to show their disdain for human life as it was going on, all while the United States government was avoiding condemnation of the deeds under a tenuous claim of neutrality. Chaplin, under the restrictions of the Hollywood Production Code, still manages to show the world the treacherous practices of the Nazi party. The periodic fading-in of his Adenoid Hynkel’s crazed carnival-barking is genius, showing how a man who may seem like a pathetic clown can also strike terror in people’s hearts and drive his constituents to madness.

5.) The Second Rally Speech
Under the guise of a case of mistaken identity, Chaplin's Little Tramp wipes off the makeup and addresses the audience, urging them to stand up to Hitler’s tyranny. Soon enough, the world would heed Chaplin’s words and the “Great Dictator” would end up offing himself in a bunker rather than face the wrath of those he tormented. While Hitler’s reign of terror ended too late for countless Jews, The Great Dictator would go down in history as one of the first high-profile pleas for the world to end its ways of appeasement and eliminate Hitler’s regime from German rule. For a film from a largely silent comedian, the scene and the film showed that Chaplin had one of the loudest voices in all of cinema and the world.

Note: YouTube rips were not available for all scenes. Buy the freaking movie!

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