The Great Dictator

The Great Dictator is a film directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. The film, first released in October 15, 1940, is a satire on fascism and in particular Adolf Hitler and Nazism.



We first see a rather clumsy soldier in the field, trying to help his fellow soldiers in battle, but he seems to be too friendly and nice to be suited for the battlefields of his country, Tomania. Soon he ends up helping a wounded pilot into flying away to safety from an attack, leading to a humorous routine where the plane is upside down and the obliviousness of the wounded Commander Schultz. The plane finally crashes, leading Schultz to escape from the wreckage, but the unnamed soldier is left wounded.

Later, we discover Adenoid Hynkel (who looks surprisingly like the soldier), the dictator of Tomania, is in power. Schultz is one of Hynkel's right hand men, and initially supports Hynkel's policies of persecuting the Jews in the ghettos, by means of harassment by the stormtroopers.

Meanwhile, Hannah, a Jew in the ghetto of Tomania, tries her best on her own to stand up to the harassment of the stormtroopers who intimidate her family, and a fellow shopkeeper. We learn now that the soldier previously is in fact a poor Jewish barber, and that he has been in the hospital and suffering from amnesia. He returns to his shop, unaware of the changes and of the harassment that goes on, and begins to resist unintentionally, which inspires Hannah. This however causes the other stormtroopers to take notice, who arrive at the scene—with Schultz.

Schultz recognizes the barber ("Pity, I always thought you were an Aryan," Schultz tells him), and decrees to the other stormtroopers to leave the people in the block with Hannah and the barber alone.

Meanwhile, Hynkel is getting ideas about taking over the world, from his right hand man, Garbitsch (pronounced 'garbage'). Hynkel clearly becomes infatuated with the idea, and one famous scene from the movie involves Chaplin, as the dictator, bouncing an inflatable globe dreamily, almost in a romantic manner, about the room, as the prelude to Act 1 of Wagner's Lohengrin plays. Hynkel grabs for the globe and it bursts, and he, in an almost melodromatic manner, falls over his desk in tears.

Hynkel is advised by Garbitsch that the first step in his plan is to invade free Osterlich, however the nearby country of Bacteria has troops on the border of the country. Hynkel invites the leader of Bacteria, Benzino Napaloni to Tomania in order to discuss the matter. Napaloni, however, is quite boisterous compared to the relatively cool-headed Hynkel, and we see how Hynkel tries to out-psych Napaloni, including a ridiculously low chair as organized by Garbitsch.

Later, Hynkel and Napaloni are in a private room with a buffet, with Napaloni proposing a written document that says that the Bacterian forces will retreat from the border if Hynkel signs, which leads to an argument whether Bacteria will follow through if Hynkel signs, that leads to a foodfight. Garbitsch advises Hynkel to sign anyway, and that Tomania will take Osterlich whether Napaloni's forces are there or not.

Hynkel however needs funds to take Osterlich and aims to settle a deal with a Jewish firm. Hynkel relaxes the anti-Semitic policy in order to aid the cogwheels of the deal, however the deal fails, and Hynkel again reinforces the policy. Schultz, then, informs Hynkel that his plans are "idiotic", since it "rests on the persecution of innocent people". Hynkel decrees Schultz a traitor, and he goes in hiding with the barber and the families living in the featured block of the ghetto.

A raid occurs, aiming to find Schultz. The barber and he try to escape, but are captured and sent to a concentration camp. The barber gets letters from Hannah, who has escaped over the border to Osterlich with her family. Schultz and the barber escape from the camp in uniforms of the Double Cross (Hynkel's party) and begin to walk confidently toward the border. The alarm is raised.

Meanwhile, Garbitsch has planned for Hynkel to go hunting near the Osterlich border, then meet the Tomanian troops once they have cleared the way into the Osterlich capital. But stormtroopers, mistaking Hynkel for the barber, capture him instead.

While this is going on, the Tomanians take Osterlich, and stormtroopers raid Hannah's home. Schultz and the barber walk toward the Osterlich border and are met by Tomanian soldiers, who think the barber is Hynkel. Schultz and the barber are taken by car to the Osterlich capital, where a gargantuan platform waits for Hynkel to make his victory speech.

Garbitsch precedes him, decrying the principles of free speech and others, declaring them as being old and causing too much trouble. Then, in an abrupt change of tone, the barber (who they think is Hynkel) instead pleads for an end to intolerance and bloodshed, urging all of mankind to rediscover humanity in their hearts and fight for "a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to the happiness of us all."

Hannah lies on the ground outside her home, despairing after the invasion. Then, she hears on the radio the barber's speech. He addresses her directly: "Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up! Look up, Hannah! The clouds are lifting, the sun is breaking through! We are coming out of the darkness into the light! We are coming into a new world; a kindlier world, where men will rise above their greed, their hate and their brutality. Look up, Hannah!"

To which she does, and the film concludes.

Cast and analyses

The film stars Chaplin as Hynkel and the barber, Paulette Goddard as Hannah, Jack Oakie as Napaloni, Reginald Gardiner as Schultz, Henry Daniell as Garbitsch and Billy Gilbert as Field Marshal Herring, an incompetent advisor to Hynkel. Chaplin stars in a double role as the Jewish barber (the Little Tramp in all but name) and the fascist dictator, clearly modeled on Adolf Hitler.

The film contains several famous sequences: Chaplin, as the barber, shaving a customer in time to a radio broadcast of Johannes Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 5;recorded in one continuous take. The dictator's famous line "first we get the Jews, and then the brunettes" is typical of the film's satirical take on Hitler's anti-Semitic policies.

The film ends with the barber, having been mistaken for the dictator, delivering a radio address to the nation following the Tomanian take-over of Osterlich (an obvious reference to the German Anschluss of Austria on March 12, 1938). The address is widely interpreted (see e.g. [1] below) as a personal plea from Chaplin. Chaplin's plea, seen as an overtly political speech, may be part of the reason Chaplin was expelled from the United States during the McCarthy era. (See the article on Charlie Chaplin for further detail).

In a more subtle political statement, the signs in the shop windows of the ghettoized Jewish population in the film are written in Esperanto. Esperanto was invented by Dr L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish Jew.

Making of the film

The film was written and directed by Chaplin. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Chaplin also received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor, and Oakie for Best Supporting Actor; the film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. The film was Chaplin's first true talking picture and helped shake off accusations of Luddism following his previous release (Modern Times) released in 1936 when the silent era had all but ended in the late 1920s. Several similarities between Hitler and Chaplin have been noted and may have been a pivotal factor in Chaplin's decision to make The Great Dictator. Chaplin and Hitler had superficially similar looks, most famously their moustaches, and this similarity is most commented upon. (There was even a song about Hitler, entitled "Who is This Man Who Looks like Charlie Chaplin?") Furthermore, the men were born four days apart in April, 1889, and grew up in relative poverty. The making of the film coincided with rising tensions throughout the world. Speculation grew that this and other anti-fascist films such as Mortal Storm and Four Sons would remain unreleased given the United States's neutral relationship with Germany. The project continued largely because failure would have bankrupted Chaplin who had invested $1.5m of his own money in the project. The film eventually opened in New York City in September, 1940, to a wider American audience in October and the United Kingdom in December. The film was released in France in April 1945, shortly after the liberation of Paris.

When interviewed about this film being on such a touchy subject, Charlie Chaplin had only this to say: "Half-way through making The Great Dictator I began receiving alarming messages from United Artists... but I was determined to go ahead for Hitler must be laughed at."

The names of the aides of Adenoid Hynkel was very similar to that of Hitler. Garbitsch, the right hand man of Hynkel is very similar to Goebbels and Field Marshall Herring was clearly modelled after the Luftwaffe chief, Hermann Goering while beyond doubt Napaloni was modelled after Benito Mussolini.

Chaplin originally intended to call the film The Dictator, but received notice from Paramount Pictures that they'd charge him $25,000 for use of the title—they owned the rights to an unrelated novel by Richard Harding Davis. Chaplin balked at the conditions and inserted "Great" into the title. (In France the film is known as Le Dictateur.)

The film was banned in all occupied countries, but Hitler, who was a great fan of movies, is known to have seen the film twice (records were kept of movies ordered for his personal theater). His reaction to it was not recorded, however, and Chaplin has been quoted as saying "I'd give anything to know what he thought of it". Less than two months after the release of The Great Dictator, footage of Chaplin appeared in the anti-Semitic propaganda film Der ewige Jude, despite Chaplin not being Jewish. This may have been some indication of Hitler's personal opinion of Chaplin after this project (if not directly of the film's artistic merits).

In 1968, following the uncovering of the Holocaust, Chaplin stated that he would not have been able to make such jokes about the Nazi regime had he known about the actual extent of the pogrom. Since then, films have been produced which accept the artistic challenge to dare to find humour in that situation, such as Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful (1997).


  1. Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image. Charles J. Maland. Princeton, 1989.
  2. National Film Theatre/British Film Institute Notes on The Great Dictator.

ca: El Gran Dictador de:Der große Diktator eo:The Great Dictator es:El gran dictador fr:Le Dictateur he:הדיקטטור הגדול sv:Diktatorn


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools