I watched this film today for the first time in many, many years. I only remembered it vaguely, and from what I remembered I considered it to be Charlie Chaplin's greatest film. After watching it today I think it probably isn't his best film, but it really is very good. It has only a little of the slapstick humour that we're used to from Charlie Chaplin. It's a political satire. I don't know why Charlie Chaplin thought it necessary to change the names of the characters and the countries, since it's so obvious who is meant.
20 years after Tomainia lost the first world war a dictator has risen to power, Adomine Hynkel. He tells other countries that he wants peace while secretly preparing for war. One of the cornerstones of his policies is that he suppresses the Jews, either locking them up in work camps or forcing them to live in segregated ghettos.
Unknown to Hynkel, there's a Jewish barber who looks identical to him. The two are confused with one another, and the barber is put into a position where he can hold a speech to a massive rally.
The screenplay was first written by Charlie Chaplin in 1938, but it wasn't filmed until 1940. My only real criticism is that the parody isn't exact. There's an obvious 1-to-1 correspondence between the characters in the film and the real life characters, but a lot of the story doesn't relate to real life events.
I'll leave you with a transcript of the barber's speech.
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone, if possible: Jew, Gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood, for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world: millions of despairing men, women, and little children,victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
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! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate. Only the unloved hate, the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers, don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St 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. You, the people have the power: the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then, in the name of democracy, let us use that power! Let us all unite! Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security! By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie. They do not fulfil that promise. They never will.
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness! Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!
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