Our October film is Charlie Chaplin’s first pure “talkie”: The Great Dictator. Produced in 1940, it was only the second American film to satirize Adolf Hitler.
Chaplin plays both the anti-Jewish dictator of Tomainia and a Jewish barber who looks just like him—so much so that when Hynkel, the dictator, sends soldiers to arrest the barber, they arrest Hynkel by mistake.
The action starts in 1918, with the defeat of the Tomainian army. A Jewish barber saves the life of a wounded pilot, but loses his own memory through concussion.
Twenty years later, still suffering from amnesia, the barber escapes from a nursing home to return to the ghetto. He falls in love with a neighbor, Hannah (Paulette Goddard), and together they try to resist persecution.
When Hynkel orders a purge of the Jews, the pilot hides in the ghetto with the barber. Storm troopers search the ghetto, arresting both. They are sent to a concentration camp, but escape. Hannah and her family flee to freedom in the neighboring country of Osterlich, which Hynkel subsequently invades.
At the border the pilot tells the barber to go up to the platform and impersonate Hynkel, as the only way to save their lives.
The terrified barber mounts the steps, but is inspired to seize the initiative. He makes an impassioned plea for brotherhood and goodwill. Although the film is long, the speech is worth waiting for.
The Great Dictator was the second-most popular film in the U.S. in 1941, and the most popular in France in 1945.
We’ll see it on Wednesday, October 25, at 7:00 p.m. in the Braunstein Community Room at Congregation Kol Ami.