The Great Dictator (1940)

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Released 3-Dec-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio
Featurette-The Tramp And The Dictator
Featurette-Footage Shot On The Set Of The Film, By Sydney Chaplin
Deleted Scenes
Featurette-Excerpt From Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Trailer-Scenes From Films In The Chaplin Collection
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 119:47
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (73:42)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Version Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Charles Chaplin

Warner Home Video
Starring Charles Chaplin
Jack Oakie
Reginald Gardiner
Henry Daniell
Billy Gilbert
Grace Hayle
Carter DeHaven
Paulette Goddard
Maurice Moscovitch
Emma Dunn
Bernard Gorcey
Paul Weigel
Chester Conklin
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $34.95 Music Charles Chaplin

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Chaplin's first talking film is a satire on Adolf Hitler, with whom he had a lot of similarities. Not just the moustache was shared between the two. They were born in the same week of April 1889, Chaplin on the 16th and Hitler on the 20th. Both came from difficult childhoods, and both lived on the streets for a time. Both had artistic temperaments, with Hitler often claiming he was more interested in art than politics, though his talent lay in the latter. Thereafter their careers diverged, Chaplin going on to bring laughter to millions, while Hitler brought only death and destruction. And the autobahn. Chaplin later said that had he known what was really going on in Germany, he would never have made the film.

    This film was announced by Chaplin in 1939, and though most people believed the film would never be made, it was completed in March 1940 and released in October. It brought a mixed critical reaction but was a big commercial success.

    A Jewish barber (Chaplin) loses his memory at the end of World War I. Years later, when dictator Adenoid Hynkel (Chaplin) rules the European country of Tomania, the barber escapes from the asylum and returns to his barber shop in the ghetto. The Jews are persecuted by the stormtroopers under Hynkel's policies. The barber regains his memory and falls in love with next-door neighbour Hannah (Paulette Goddard). The Jews get some relief when Hynkel is trying to obtain a loan from Jewish banker Epstein so that he can invade Osterlich, before his ally Napaloni (Jack Oakie) of neighbouring Bacteria can invade the country himself.

    I have mixed feelings about this film. While there are funny patches, there are also sequences that are more like drama and this makes the film a little uneven. It is also overlong, and in light of what we now know about what was really happening in Germany, the sequences of the Jews being oppressed made me squirm uncomfortably. But there are compensations. Chaplin is excellent as Hynkel, especially in his famous dance with the globe to the strains of Wagner's Lohengrin. Billy Gilbert is very good as the Goering-like Herring. Henry Daniell is more chilling than funny as Garbitsch, who I guess must be modelled on Goebbels. The film is stolen by Jack Oakie as the hilarious Napaloni, doing his best Mussolini impersonation and always trying to get one up on his fellow dictator.

    The film was apparently seen by Hitler - twice - but no-one knows his reaction to it. Albert Speer later remarked that Chaplin's impersonation of Hitler was closer to the mark than any other film portrayals he had seen. In all, it makes for uncomfortable viewing in some respects, but still has some funny sequences, most of which occur during the latter half of the film. And while the famous Tramp character does not appear in the film, the barber wears a suit of clothes that look like brand new versions of the tatty rags that the tramp wore.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is transferred in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, close to the original 1.37:1, and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    Watching this immediately after Modern Times, I was a little disappointed in the quality of the transfer. The film is in less than pristine condition. The transfer is sharp and clear throughout, with an excellent level of detail. Contrast levels are also excellent, with a fine range of blacks, whites and greys on display. Shadow detail is also very good.

    The only film to video artefacts on display are minor instances of aliasing. Grain levels are good.

    Film artefacts are the main problem. There are more than I would have hoped for, with debris, flecks and scratches throughout. These are not especially noticeable, and many viewers will not notice many of them. There does seem to be some minor decomposition of the print, and there is some variability in the brightness of the print, causing a flickering effect.

    The review disc provided to this website has a glitch at 84:05. The picture breaks up and jumps back a second before resuming at the correct point. The audio is not affected. Cleaning the disc and using a different player did not overcome the problem, so it appears to be a mastering issue.

    Subtitles are provided in many languages. The English subtitles are clear and easy to read in italicised white font. However, they do not translate all of the dialogue, and in some cases seem to merely paraphrase the dialogue.

    The film comes on an RSDL-formatted disc, with the layer change perfectly positioned at 73:42 during a black screen between scenes, and is thus not disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are four audio tracks provided. There is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and German and Spanish-dubbed 2.0 mixes, but the default audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. I listened to the default track in full and sampled the others. Note that the case refers to the mono mixes as 1.0, but they are 2.0.

    The audio comes across well in this transfer. Dialogue is clear and distinct, and the sound is generally surprisingly good. Dynamic range is a little limited, but there is little to carp about here. The surround track does not seem to add anything to my ears, and I found it somewhat distracting. There do not appear to be many low frequency effects, so the subwoofer remains quiet most of the time.

    The music score is by Chaplin and is pretty good, never getting in the way of the film and occasionally using music by others, notably Richard Wagner's prelude to Act One of Lohengrin.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The extra material is included on a second disc. Unlike the rest of the series, there is no introduction by David Robinson nor a Chaplin Today featurette, but this is more than made up for by the documentary.

Main Menu Audio

    Music from the score is played under the static menu.

Documentary - The Tramp and the Dictator (54:57)

    A fine 2001 documentary about the film made by historian Kevin Brownlow, who produced the Unknown Chaplin series. Using the unearthed footage made by Sydney Chaplin (see below) and interviews with film historians, Sydney Chaplin (Charlie's son) and people who saw the film on initial release, this documentary tells how the film came to be made. It deals with the resemblance with Hitler and his reaction to it, or rather his regime's reaction to it. An excellent film as usual from Brownlow, narrated by Kenneth Branagh.

Featurette - The Production Filmed in Colour by Sydney Chaplin (25:45)

    This is the complete footage, recently discovered, of Chaplin's brother Sydney's home movies of the shooting of The Great Dictator. In colour and in 16mm, the film is in remarkably good condition. It is strange to see sequences in colour, as you tend to forget that life wasn't black and white in those days. There is no music provided, but this is still interesting to watch. It includes footage of an alternative ending to the film that was replaced with the current ending during production.

Deleted Scene - Charlie the Barber (7:30)

    Actually, this is a deleted scene from Sunnyside (1919), showing a barber shop sequence very similar to the one in The Great Dictator. In the latter, the barber shaves Chester Conklin, though his trademark enormous moustache has already been removed. No sound is provided, and while sharp, the film has some decomposition.

Excerpt from Monsieur Verdoux (2:25)

    I'm not sure why this is here, though this clip does make reference to the conditions which allowed the Nazi party to come to power.

Gallery - Poster

    18 original posters for the film.

Trailer - Scenes From Films In The Chaplin Collection (21:24)

    The same selection of excerpts from films in the Chaplin Collection that is included on most of these releases.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The film was originally released on DVD in Region 1 by Image Entertainment, in an edition prepared by Film Preservation Associates. This release is no longer available. Extras included some footage of Hitler, cast biographies and the same excerpt from Sunnyside that appears on the new release.

    The Region 2 versions from Warner/Mk2 appear to be identical to the Region 4. However, the film was also available as part of a boxed set of the Chaplin Collection, and this set had a bonus disc containing a two-hour documentary by film critic Richard Schickel. The French release was the first of the Chaplin Collection to come out, and I have this release, entitled Le Dictateur. The packaging is quite luxurious, in an oversized box with half a dozen postcard-sized photographs, and a lengthy booklet in French. The transfer and extras are the same as the Region 4.

    The Region 1 release from Warner was apparently made from the PAL masters created by Mk2, and thus not only have ghosting effects but also PAL speedup. The image is also slightly cropped in comparison with the Region 2 releases.


    One of Chaplin's most famous films, but in my opinion not one of the best.

    The video transfer is pretty good, apart from one glitch.

    The audio transfer is very good.

    The extras are pretty good.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, November 08, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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Comments (Add)
Some additional thoughts. - Gavin Bollard (bio - updated 9 Nov 2005)