The Great Dictator Blu-ray review

            You could say that Charlie Chaplin was late in joining the talking pictures, only making his first with The Great Dictator in 1940. His previous features, the fearless silent City Lights and selectively silent Modern Times, were incredible but did not find strong use of dialogue. Although his first real “talkie” was late to arrive, and still utilizes some great dialogue-free sequences synonymous with the silent star’s iconic persona, Chaplin utilizes dialogue in a way that is beyond cutting edge. It is almost prophetic.

            This masterpiece began production at the same time that Hitler’s Nazis invaded Poland, and the content seems almost too urgent to be humorous. It takes a genius like Chaplin to blend film with reality, warping the audience expectation of his beloved Little Tramp character with the brutal satirizing of Hitler. It is a film which finales with a bit of propaganda, but one which is so touchingly Chaplin and sincerely felt, I find it to be the crowning moment of this great film.

            The amazing thing about this film is the fact that this bit of emotion and humor filled propaganda came out long before the United States (or Hollywood, for that matter) had joined the war. It tells a simple Tramp-like tale of a poor Jewish barber who is mentally wounded after WWI, only to be released to find that WWII is about to begin because of his race’s extinction by the hands of dictator Adenoid Hynkel of Tomania, also played by Chaplin. Their similar looks come into play in the final sequence, one which is inevitable and then surprisingly touching.

            The Blu-ray release of this classic is marvelously packed with special features which add depth and understanding of the cultural and historical significance of this film. This comes with an all-new high definition digital restoration of the picture, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. There is also a new audio commentary with Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran. The highlight of the special features, however, would have to be The Tramp and the Dictator, a 2001 documentary about the odd similarities between Hitler and Chaplin. There are also two new visual essays, along with the essays included in the booklet insert. There is also color production footage, shot by Chaplin’s half-brother, and more footage from other films which delve into the wonder that is the barbershop sequence in the film, and where is was inspired from.


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