Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator"

Show Shops —

House Announces Reserved Seat Premiere

By Kaspar Monahan


Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, the film on which he has been laboring for three years, will have its local premiere Friday evening, Oct. 25, at the Warner Theater.

As in New York where it will be given its world premiere next Tuesday at two theaters, The Great Dictator will be shown at advance prices – 75¢ in the afternoons and $1.10 for the evening performances. The latter scale will be charged for the first-night performance when all seats will be reserved. Thereafter, the movie will be shown continuously.

In The Great Dictator, Mr. Chaplin will be seen as a character mistaken for Hitler because of his exact resemblance to the Nazi boss while Jack Oakie will do a take-off on Il Duce.

Since first word of Chaplin’s plan to make his antic jibe at the power politicians, speculation has boiled and brewed as to how far he dared to go with his nose-thumbing. Then, when the film was completed, many commentators, myself included, wondered if he dared to release it – in view of Hitler’s shocking and incredibly swift trampling of half a dozen nations.

Apparently England’s stout stand has made up his mind for him – so at last we are to see the fruit of three years’ toil and expenditure of some $2,500,000. Two weeks from this Friday, we’ll learn whether it was worth it and whether it is possible to laugh at the man who, as this is written, is showering death and carnage on mighty London. Well, if any man can make us laugh at Hitler, that man is Chaplin – and I suspect that once again he has produced a masterpiece of comedy.

He talks in this one, too – for the first time. In his last Modern Times, he did mouth a few words in an absurd little song – not words actually, however, just gibberish.


At this time, was Chaplin a “free agent” per se or was he still tied to a studio like most actors back then?


Chaplin was in control of this film, so no, he wasn’t tied to a studio because the studio was his (he was the co-founder of United Artists – the studio in charge of distribution of Dictator).


The Pittsburgh Press (October 15, 1940)


Comedy, Tragedy Mixed in Movie 'Blitzkrieg’

New York, Oct. 15 (UP) –


Charlie Chaplin’s one-man blitzkrieg against war and hatred and intolerance had its first showing here last night.

Before New York’s blasé preview crowd, the little man with the baggy pants and the postage-stamp mustache unveiled his $2,300,000 moving picture, The Great Dictator, the show he wrote, directed and acted in protest against a world gone mad.

It is a big and carefully-wrought picture. Yet into it Chaplin has managed to inject the same mixture of comedy and tragedy that enthralled his audiences of the silent screen.

It is a two-hour show, and the greater part of it is slapstick comedy, the pie-throwing, belly-flopping, type of comedy Chaplin originated.

Laughter and tears alternate and intermingle with kaleidoscopic speed through the film.

Chaplin said while he waited nervously for its premiere:

This is no propaganda picture. I have no thought of carrying a banner.

I’m not anti-anything except the persecution of the small and the weak. But insanity is insanity and brutality is brutality.


The Pittsburgh Press (October 16, 1940)

New York, Oct. 16 (UP) –

The Great Dictator took over Broadway last night.

With searchlights piercing the skies, flashlight bulbs popping and crowds massed in Times Square, Charlie Chaplin’s long-awaited film was given its “official” world premiere simultaneously at the Astor and Capitol Theatres.

It was the great pantomimist’s first film in five years and for the first time in his long career, he spoke from the screen – spoke out against intolerance, hatred and war.

Written, directed and produced by Chaplin, the film was three years in the making at a cost of $2,300,000. He was present at the opening with Paulette Goddard, the first time in 10 years that he has come to New York.

The New York Times (October 16, 1940)

’The Great Dictator,’ by and With Charlie Chaplin, Tragi-Comic Fable of the Unhappy Lot of Decent Folk in a Totalitarian Land, at the Astor and Capitol CHAPLIN AT THE PREMIERE
By Bosley Crowtherwallace

Now that the waiting is over and the shivers of suspense at an end, let the trumpets be sounded and the banners flung against the sky. For the little tramp, Charlie Chaplin, finally emerged last night from behind the close-guarded curtains which have concealed his activities these past two years and presented himself in triumphal splendor as The Great Dictator – or you know who. No event in the history of the screen has ever been anticipated with more hopeful excitement than the premiere of this film, which occurred simultaneously at the Astor and Capitol Theatres; no picture ever made has promised more momentous consequences.

The prospect of little “Charlot,” the most universally loved character in all the world, directing his superlative talent for ridicule against the most dangerously evil man alive has loomed as a titanic jest, a transcendent paradox. And the happy report this morning is that it comes off magnificently. The Great Dictator may not be the finest picture ever made – in fact, it possesses several disappointing shortcomings. But, despite them, it turns out to be a truly superb accomplishment by a truly great artist – and, from one point of view, perhaps the most significant film ever produced.

Let this be understood, however: it is no catch-penny buffoonery, no droll and gentle-humored social satire in the manner of Chaplin’s earlier films. The Great Dictator is essentially a tragic picture – or tragi-comic in the classic sense – and it has strongly bitter overtones. For it is a lacerating fable of the unhappy lot of decent folk in a totalitarian land, of all the hateful oppression which has crushed the humanity out of men’s souls. And, especially, it is a withering revelation, through genuinely inspired mimicry, of the tragic weaknesses, the overblown conceit and even the blank insanity of a dictator (Hitler, of course).

The main story line is quite simple, though knotted with many complications. A little Jewish barber returns to his shop in the ghetto of an imaginary city (obviously Berlin) after a prolonged lapse of perception due to an injury in the World War. He does not know that the State is now under the sign of the double-cross, that storm troopers patrol the streets, that Jews are cruelly persecuted and that, the all-powerful ruler of the land is one Hynkel, a megalomaniac, to whom he bears – as a foreword states – a “coincidental resemblance.” Thus, the little barber suffers a bitter disillusionment when he naively attempts to resist; he is beaten and eventually forced to flee to a neighboring country. But there he is mistaken for Hynkel, who has simultaneously annexed this neighboring land. And pushed upon a platform to make a conqueror’s speech, he delivers instead a passionate appeal for human kindness and reason and brotherly love. Thus the story throws in pointed contrast the good man against the evil one – the genial, self-effacing but courageous little man of the street against the cold pretentious tyrant.

Both are played by Chaplin, of course, in a highly comic vein, beneath which runs a note of eternal sadness. The little barber is our beloved Charlie of old – the fellow with the splay feet, baggy pants, trick mustache and battered bowler. And, as always, he is the pathetic butt of heartless circumstances, beaten, driven, but ever prepared to bounce back. In this role Chaplin performs two of the most superb bits of pantomime he has ever done – one during a sequence in which he and four other characters eat puddings containing coins to determine which shall sacrifice his life to kill the dictator, and the other a bit in which he shaves a man to the rhythm of Brahms’s Hungarian Rhapsody. But it is as the dictator that Chaplin displays his true genius. Whatever fate it was that decreed Adolf Hitler should look like Charlie must have ordained this opportunity, for the caricature of the former is devastating. The feeble, affected hand-salute, the inclination for striking ludicrous attitudes, the fabulous fits of rage and violent facial contortions – all the vulnerable spots of Hitler’s exterior are pierced by Chaplin’s pantomimic shafts. He is at his best in a wild senseless burst of guttural oratory – a compound of German, Yiddish and Katzenjammer double-talk; and he reaches positively exalted heights in a plaintive dance which he does with a large balloon representing the globe, bouncing it into the air, pirouetting beneath it – and then bursting into tears when the balloon finally pops. Another splendid sequence is that in which Hynkel and Napaloni, a neighboring dictator, meet and bargain. Napaloni, played by Jack Oakie, is a bluff, expansive creature – the antithesis of neurotic Hynkel – and the two actors contrive in this part of the film one of the most hilarious lampoons ever performed on the screen.

Others in the cast are excellent – Paulette Goddard as a little laundry girl, Henry Daniell as a Minister of Propaganda, Billy Gilbert as a Minister of War – but Oakie ranges right alongside Chaplin. And that is tops.

On the debit side, the picture is overlong, it is inclined to be repetitious and the speech with which it ended – the appeal for reason and kindness – is completely out of joint with that which has gone before. In it, Chaplin steps out of character and addresses his heart to the audience. The effect is bewildering, and what should be the climax becomes flat and seemingly maudlin. But the sincerity with which Chaplin voices his appeal and the expression of tragedy which is clear in his face are strangely overpowering. Suddenly one perceives in bald relief the things which make The Great Dictator great – the courage and faith and surpassing love for mankind which are in the heart of Charlie Chaplin.

Based on an original story written, directed and produced by Charles Chaplin and released through United Artists; musical direction by Meredith Willson. At the Astor and Capitol Theatres.

People of the Palace
Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomainia . . . . . Charles Chaplin
Benzino Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria . . . . . Jack Oakie
Commander Schultz . . . . . Reginald Gardiner
Garbitsch . . . . . Henry Daniell
Herring . . . . . Billy Gilbert
Madame Napaloni . . . . . Grace Hayle
Bacterian Ambassador . . . . . Carter DeHaven

People of the Ghetto
Jewish Barber . . . . . Charles Chaplin
Hannah . . . . . Paulette Goddard
Mr. Jaeckel . . . . . Maurice Moscovich
Mrs. Jaeckel . . . . . Emma Dunn
Mr. Mann . . . . . Bernard Gorcey
Mr. Agar . . . . . Paul Weigel

Other cast
Chester Conklin, Esther Michelson, Hank Mann, Florence Wright, Eddie Gribbon, Robert O. Davis, Eddie Dunn, Nita Pike and Peter Lynn.

While thousands of excited admirers surged outside the Astor and Capitol Theatres and klieg lights penciled the darkness above Times Square, Charles Chaplin made brief appearances last night at both houses, where The Great Dictator, the little comedian’s first film in five years, was being shown in a dual world’s premiere to “first-night” audiences including social, theatrical and political figures. Accompanied by Paulette Goddard, his wife, who also is featured in the film, Mr. Chaplin arrived at the Astor at 8:30 p.m. and forced his way into the theatre while a detail of thirty patrolmen and mounted police tried to hold back the crowd. Visibly shaken, the pair posed for photographers in the lobby. Then, amid the cries and cheers of the audience, Mr. Chaplin went to the front of the orchestra to wave a greeting and call out a simple:

I hope you like it.

Immediately thereafter, he and Miss Goddard were rushed out through a side door and sped up to the Capitol under a police escort. There the throngs again pressed against the pair so heavily that Mr. Chaplin was momentarily thrown to his knees.

In the lobby, the comedian participated in a broadcast being conducted by Jack Oakie over Station WHN and again waved a brief greeting to the packed house before joining his party in the loge, which included H. G. Wells, Constance Collier and Tim Durant.

Among the celebrities attending the opening were Alfred E. Smith, James Farley, Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., John J. Raskob, Fannie Hurst, Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester.

The police detail at the Capitol was commanded by Deputy Chief Inspector O’Sullivan; at the Astor, Deputy Inspector Brown was in charge.


The Pittsburgh Press (October 20, 1940)


Editor, The Pittsburgh Press:

I see where Pittsburgh is to be greatly honored as one of the first big cities to present Charlie Chaplin in the Dictator, at the Warner Theater, Friday evening, October 25.

I have never before looked forward with such great enthusiasm as to seeing this greatest of all time pictures. To the writer’s point of view, Chaplin is a genius. He has been a topnotch box office attraction longer than anyone else on the screen.

He has made more people laugh than anyone on earth, and that is what we need.

The reason I know I will be entertained with this picture more than at any time in my life is the fact that my idol of the screen these many years will portray the life of Hitler as no other one could do it. A burlesque on dictatorship, a subject only fit for ridicule.

533 Bigelow St.


The Pittsburgh Press (October 26, 1940)


Chaplin Plays Dual Role In Film; Goddard, Jack Oakie Score In Support

By Kaspar Monahan

Charlie Chaplin, the actor, emerges unscathed from The Great Dictator as still the greatest comedian of our day, the incomparable pantomimist. But for Charlie Chaplin in his manifold capacities as producer, writer, and director, it’s a vastly different story.

After all these years of waiting we are at last permitted to see a film about which there has been as much publicity and talk and rumors as there were about Gone With the Wind. Curiosity mounted in white heat and a great expectance was created in the public mind.

It is too bad – and I say this sincerely – that Mr. Chaplin permitted his emotions, his thorough righteous wrath at Hitler, to join away with him. I share with Mr. Chaplin his loathing of Hitler and all dictators but I cannot wholeheartedly applaud him for his latest film. Of all his movies, this is the least funny, although when Mr. Chaplin tosses aside the crusader’s cape – as he does in a number of hilarious scenes, The Great Dictator gives us the Chaplin of old, of which there was none better.

But all the really funny portions in the lengthy The Dictator, which had its local premiere last night at the Warner could be compressed into one of his old two-reelers or in three reels at the most. Viewed as a whole, The Great Dictator is an uneven mixture of comedy and tragedy a jumble of conflicting moods that is confusing and distressing to his most avid admirers, and I am one of those avid admirers.

To illustrate, I ask a question:

Is it a laughing matter to witness brutal storm troopers slugging men and women into the ghetto, even shooting one before your eyes? Such scene abruptly following a satirical passage, serve only to throttle the guffaw in the throat. Not once does this happen but continuously throughout the movie, just as though Mr. Chaplin (as he probably was) was torn between two overmastering desires. To kid the socks off Hitler as the most ridiculous figure of all history and at the same time to expose him as the cruelest, foulest monster of all time, not excluding Nero or Herod.

In that latter purpose he has not succeeded one-tenth as well as the powerful anti-Nazi film Pastor Hall. Readily conceding that Hitler is both the buffoon and the mad tyrant that Mr. Chaplin tried to picture him, I feel that the attempt to portray him as such in celluloid is at cross purposes and muddles the issue.

As you probably know by now Mr. Chaplin plays a dual role, that of a pathetic little Jewish barber and that of Hynkel, dictator of Tomania. It is inevitable, of course, that in time the barber will be mistaken for Hynkel and that as a result the attempt to enslave the world will burst like a bubble.

Adenoid Hynkel is, of course, Adolf Hitler. And the Mussolini of the film had the moniker of Napaloni. This play on words savors of the campus farce put on by sophomores at a jerk-water college. Hynkel’s domain is Tomania; Napaloni’s is Bacteria. And two other characters are dubbed Garbitsch, pronounced like “garbage,” and probably meaning Goebbels, and Herring.

But, as noted, there are occasions when Chaplin the comedian grabs control from his crusader self; then the relieved audience is treated to the most hilarious slapstick buffoonery and also to the quintessence of satire at its keenest. He’s at his tip-top best when as the Dictator he rages and rants and roars in a language full of German intonations and grunts, with splatterings of English words; in his bubble dance with a ball representing the earth, in his meeting with Napaloni and the later “conference” on the matter of invading Austerlitz (Austria); in his encounters with storm troopers, assisted valiantly by Paulette Goddard who bops the thugs on the heads with a skillet.

As to the conclusion, when Mr. Chaplin’s barber suddenly becomes a third person, neither the dictator nor the barber, and delivers a windy harangue on human rights – the less said of that the better. This is a sad, sad mistake.

The most sustained portion of comedy comes with the arrival of Napaloni, played with broad, gusty exaggeration by Jack Oakie. Napaloni is met and dismissed all too soon for the good of the movie. Oakie is superb and more. And Miss Goddard as a Jewish laundress is immensely appealing. Other characters are capably played by Billy Gilbert, Maurice Moscovich and Henry Daniell.

There is this to be said in behalf of Mr. Chaplin – the dread state of the world is against him. The great Shaw failed in his anti-dictator play, Geneva. Perhaps the times are not right for the satirizing of Hitler or his stooges; perhaps no man is genius enough to pillory the Nazi scourge effectively on stage or screen while an enslaved Europe groans.

For the present we might as well be realists and get rid of any fond notions that you can laugh any evil man off his pedestal. This film would seen to demonstrate that the slapstick – even the rapier of satire – is not mightier than the sword.

What you need is a bigger sword.



Link to Florence Fisher Parry’s review of the film.


I love this movie, it’s great. Chaplin has Hitler’s neurotic behavior down pat. And he actually let’s the actor who plays the parody of Mussolini steal the spotlight for the few scenes he is in, and that’s a measure of true greatness, knowing when to let someone else shine.