CRITERION makes a great Bluray of THE GREAT DICTATOR
The first thing I noticed after popping this in was the absolutely gorgeous, crisp clear picture. You expect a Criterion release to look good but this was literally the best I have ever seen this film. The second thing I noticed, is what anyone would notice, the muscles of my mouth forming an involuntary smile, which soon gave way to chuckles and finally belly laughs. But beyond it's entertainment value The Great Dictator offers true pathos. Chaplin knows when to turn the humor off but how to turn what could have been the stuff of sappy melodrama into a moving testament to human dignity. This is not a movie that can be explained, but one that should be watched whenever demagogy threatens to devolve into war.
Chaplin stars in a dual role as mild mannered Jewish barber and Hynkel, Dictator of Tomania, a tyrannical anti-semitic despot bent on eradicating the world of Jews. When the barber finds himself mistaken for Hynkel he seizes the opportunity to undermine the vast conspiracy that threatens all of mankind. The film is full of the slapstick that made Chaplin a household name all over the world and contains some of the best such sequences ever put on film including the famous barber chair duel between Hynkel and Napaloni - Dictator of Bacteria. Balanced against those however are frightening images of Hynkel railing in pitch perfect imitation of the need to rid the world of Jewish vermin. At such times the camera moves in for tight close-up rendering the generally benevolent Chaplin's features into something monstrous and terrifying. Such is the face of evil when fully exposed.
The Great Dictator opened in London rubble during the Blitzkrieg. many people (Jews and non-Jews alike) discouraged Chaplin in the making of what would be his masterpiece. It's release could not have been more timely, and of course, predates American involvement in the war. Nonetheless Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself sent word to Chaplin how important it was for the director to make his film, to get it seen.
Besides the commentary by Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran, the Criterion Collection has also included the excllent The Tramp and the Dictator, a documentary tracing the path both Hitler and Chaplin took towards their eventual confrontation, pointing out their similar backgrounds and possible inspirations as well as the development of The Great Dictator. Rare color production footage, deleted scenes and sequences from other Chaplin films and two new visual essays by Chaplin archivist Cecilia Cenciarelli and biographer Jeffrey Vance are augmented with a thick booklet of essays from Chaplin himself, film critic Michael Wood, critic Jean Narboni, and illustrations by Al Hirschfeld.