Chaplin makes no bones about his utter contempt for dictators like Hitler and Mussolini in his production of The Great Dictator. He takes time out to make fun about it, but the preachment is strong, notably in the six-minute speech at the finish.
Chaplin speaks throughout the film, but wherever convenient depends as much as he can on pantomime. His panto has always talked plenty.
Chaplin plays a dual role, that of a meek little Jewish barber in Tomania and the great little dictator of that country, billed as Hynkel. It’s when he is playing the dictator that the comedian’s voice raises the value of the comedy content of the picture to great heights. He does various bits as a Hitler spouting at the mouth in which he engages in a lot of double talk in what amounts to a pig-Latin version of the German tongue, with grunts thrown in here and there, plus a classical ‘Democracy shtoonk’. On various occasions as Hitler he also speaks English. In these instances he talks with force, as contrasted by the mousey, half-scared way he speaks as the poor barber.
Somewhat of a shock is the complete transformation of the barber when he delivers the speech at the finish, a fiery and impassioned plea for freedom and democracy. It is a peculiar and somewhat disappointing climax with the picture ending on a serious rather than a comical note.
The vast majority of the action is built around Hynkel and the Jewish barber. Not so much is devoted to the dictator who is Napaloni (Mussolini). Jack Oakie plays the satirized Duce to the hilt and every minute with him is socko.
In making up the billing, Chaplin has displayed an unusually keen sense of humor. While Hynkel is the dictator of Tomania, Napaloni is the ruler of Bacteria. Tomania higher-ups include Garbitsch (Goebels) and Herring (Goering). These are played effectively by Henry Daniell and Billy Gilbert.
1940: Nominations: Best Picture, Actor (Charles Chaplin), Supp. Actor (Jack Oakie), Original Screenplay, Original Score