Classic Movie Review: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter L

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Release Date:
10 June 1943
Director:
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Production Company:
The Archers
Summary/Review:

This is a movie I’d never even heard of before I started working on lists of classic movies.  The title amuses me, partly because “blimp” is an inherently funny word, but also because in America the word refers to an airship, although I don’t that word is in use in Great Britain.  From some lazy internet research, I’ve learned that “Colonel Blimp” was a British comic strip satirizing the military elite.  There is actually no character in this movie named Blimp, although the main character, Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesy), matches the image of the rotund, walrus-moustached comic strip caricature.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp joins in the trend of Allied Powers in World War II producing epic historical dramas at the same time their countries are being bombed and/or invaded by Nazi Germany (France’s Children of Paradise and Russia’s Ivan the Terrible are previously reviewed films of this genre). This film alone actually deals with the present-day issues of World War II, beginning with a prologue about British soldiers beginning a mock war as part of training exercises.  Despite being informed that “War starts at midnight!,” the leader of the troop decides that the Nazis would never follow the rules of a start time, and decides to “invade” London and captures Major-General Candy in a Turkish bath.

The outrage of Candy’s embarrassment leads to a series of flashbacks that detail his history and ideology in the British military.  The first is set in 1902 when Candy has just returned from the Boer War and rashly travels to Berlin to counter anti-British propaganda by the Germans.  The next segment is set in the final days of The Great War and its aftermath.  The final flashback is set during the early days of World War II, where Candy is retired from the regular army based on his outdated views, but then appointed to lead the Home Guard.  Which leads back to the “present day” scenes of the prologue.

The movie has several plotlines tying everything together.  One is Candy’s long-time friendship with the German officer Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook), whom he initially meets in a duel.  Another plot deals with Candy’s relationship with three women, all played by Deborah Kerr (later to appear in An Affair to Remember): Edith Hunter, who Candy realizes he loves after she marries Theo; Barbara Wynne, a WWI nurse that Candy marries; and Johnny Cannon, Candy’s driver when he’s leading the Home Guard.  The movie also deals with the erosion of the ideas of honor and rules among the European military elite, and idea also explored in The Bridge on River Kwai’s Colonel Nicholson. There’s propaganda in this movie too, as characters flat out lie and say the British did not commit atrocities in the Boer War or World War I.

The movie starts out very strange as a series of really awkward attempts at satirical madcap comedy.  But it’s worth sticking it out as the movie deliberately uncovers the human Candy underneath the “Colonel Blimp” caricature.  The movie never loses its sense of humor, but definitely becomes less silly over time.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter B

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: The Bridge on the River Kwai
Release Date: October 2, 1957
Director: David Lean
Production Company: Horizon Pictures
Summary/Review:

The Bridge on the River Kwai may be one of the first classic movies I watched and enjoyed as a child. It was either this or The African Queen.  Oddly enough, both movie have in common people traveling down a river to blow something up and leeches.  I watched Kwai numerous times in my youth and into my young adulthood, but I was returning to it after many decades.

The movie, for the most part, part holds up very well.  It has many iconic moments.  The English POWs marching into camp whistling the “Colonel Bogey March” (which I only just learned that during WWII was given parody lyrics and was sung as “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball“), English Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) standing off against the Japanese camp director Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), Nicholson staggering out of the punishment box, and the whole final sequence which I found extremely satisfying after all the build up. William Holden (who keeps appearing in these classic movies) plays the token American who escapes the camp only to return as part of team of commandos, and he represents the audience as the person who recognizes the absurdity of the situation.

When I watched this when I was younger, I took at face value, so watching it this time I really noticed how the movie is deeply satirical, with dark and absurdist humor, and an anti-war movie.  The final word of the film is “Madness!” and the entire film is an examination of madness, or perhaps more accurately, monomaniacal behavior, as exhibited by Nicholson, Saito, and commando leader Major Warden (Jack Hawkins).  What makes this movie work is that in some ways, each of these three “mad” characters does have a good point.  Saito is correct when is says that there are no rules in war.  Nicholson is right that giving the POWs a sense of purpose by building the bridge leads to better morale and health, and Warden is right that they need to destroy the bridge.  The moral quandary is how far they are willing to go to pursue these goals.  The real “madness” is the war itself, which pushes them to the edge.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Reviews: To Be or Not To Be (1942)


Title: To Be or Not To Be
Release Date: February 19, 1942
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Production Company: Romaine Film Corp
Summary/Review:

On the eve of a Presidential inauguration that is under the shadow of a white supremacist insurrection us two weeks ago, it seems unfortunate that a movie that makes light of Nazis would come up next on my list. Except, once I started watching this movie I found it so compelling I let my misapprehensions go. Set in 1939, the movie depicts a theatre company in Warsaw who support the Underground by using disguises and get themselves in and out of trouble. Despite being a very funny comedy this film makes the threat of the Nazis all the more menacing.

In this earlier version Jack Benny and Carole Lombard portray the married stars of a Warsaw theatre company named Josef and Maria Tura.  A very young Robert Stack (but his distinguishing voice is recognizable) plays the Polish airman Lt. Stanislav Sobinski who inadvertently gets them caught up in a Gestapo plot. Benny is absolutely hilarious as the arrogant and hammy actor playing a part in everything he does.  Lombard, in her last role before dying in a plane crash, is equally majestic as the quick-witted Maria.

I remember seeing at least parts of the 1983 remake with Mel Brooks (and more frequently, the unfortunate “Hitler Rap” music video) as a kid, but didn’t remember much about the movie. I can see why it would appeal to Brooks though as it has some of his dark, satiric humor as well as the willingness to be seen as doing something in “bad taste.”

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
Title: The Constant Rabbit
Publication Info: Viking (2020)
Other Books Read By the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

I’ve been a fan of Jasper Fforde’s works for many years and there are some things I’ve come to expect. 1) Elements of the fantastical in an otherwise ordinary world and 2) the characters in the story live under autocratic world in a dystopia.  The fantastical element of this book is that an unexplained event caused rabbits to take on human forms. The dystopia is that the British government has fallen under control of rightwing extremists who use fear to discriminate against the anthropomorphized rabbits. The dystopia is in effect the Britain of UKIP and Brexit (or the United States of Tea Party and Trump) and the metaphor isn’t even slightly nuanced.

The story is told from the perspective of Peter Knox, a human who is especially skilled in distinguish among rabbits and thus works as a Spotter for a draconian government organization Rabbit Compliance Taskforce.  Knox represents the the liberal person who is sympathetic to the cause of the oppressed but doesn’t want to get involved. In the novel, a rabbit family moves in next door to Knox including Constance, a rabbit Knox was acquainted with in college to whom he maintains an attraction. Over the course of the novel Knox is drawn into the rabbit resistance at the same time the government advances its plan to suppress the rabbits once and for all.

What I love about Fforde’s novels is that when he creates an alternate universe he always dives in deep into the detail about how the universe works.  The universe of anthropomorphic rabbits is no exception.  Fforde does a great job creating the culture and everyday life of the rabbit world that seems true to their species and their magical transformation. I particularly like a scene late in the novel when a rabbit lawyer is able to find loopholes in case against Knox in order to have the charges dropped.

This may not be my favorite Fforde novel but it is still a very good one. And if heavy-handed analogies to current events are not your thing, be warned that this book is full of them. But I believe it still works as an effective commentary and satire.

Favorite Passages:

Somebody once said that the library is actually the dominant life form on the planet. Humans simply exist as the reproductive means to achieve more libraries.

‘I fully appreciate what you’re saying, Peter,’ he said, which was Mallett shorthand for ‘I would utterly reject what you’re saying if I were listening, which I’m not’, ‘and all I want to do is raise awareness,’ which was, again, Mr Mallett’s shorthand for ‘I think I’ll stir up a whole heap of trouble and hope that in the ensuing scrum I’ll get what I want but not be held accountable for it’. He went on: ‘We must remain utterly vigilant at all times, and I’ll be honest, Peter, I didn’t have you pegged as a friend to rabbits.’

‘And don’t say you’re not personally responsible,’ continued Mr Ffoxe, ‘because you are. Your tacit support of the status quo is proof of your complicity, your shrugging indifference a favourable vote in support of keeping things exactly as they are. I’m not the murderer, Knox, you are – you and all your pathetic little naked primate cousins with their silly hairstyles and gangly limbs and overdeveloped sense of entitlement and self-serving delusion.’

While most humans are wired to be reasonably decent, a few are wired to be utter shits – and they do tend to tip the balance.’

‘Perhaps that’s what satire does – not change things wholesale but nudge the collective consciousness in a direction that favours justice and equality.

The bears in Oregon generally kept to themselves, but had recently been given Second Amendment rights, so were legally allowed to shoot hunters in self-defence – and did so quite frequently, much to the annoyance of hunters, who considered it ‘manifestly unfair’ because the bears, now suitably armed, were actually better hunters than they were.

The way we see it, London is just one massive money-laundering scheme attached to an impressive public transport system and a few museums, of which even the most honest has more stolen goods than a lock-up garage in Worcester rented by a guy I know called Chalky.’

‘Humans have a very clear idea about how to behave, and on many occasions actually do. But it’s sometimes disheartening that correct action is drowned out by endless chitter-chatter, designed not to find a way forward but to justify petty jealousies and illogically held prejudices. If you’re going to talk, try to make it relevant, useful and progressive rather than simply distracting and time-wasting nonsense, intended only to justify the untenable and postpone the real dialogue that needs to happen.’

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)


Title: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Release Date: October 17, 1939
Director: Frank Capra
Production Company: Columbia Pictures
Summary/Review:

When I watched this movie as a child, I was gobsmacked by the depiction of rank corruption in the government. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about political corruption throughout US history, I just didn’t expect it in an old Hollywood film. For all the criticism of Frank Capra of making sentimental “Capra-corn,” this movie is cynical and dark. I mean they show flunkies of a political machine attacking children and driving them off a road, fer chrissakes!

The story begins with the death of a senator from a unnamed party in an unnamed state (Capra is very careful never to mention either of these things, ignoring the specific people and places where corruption thrived giving this movie an unfortunate “bothsiderism” undertone). The governor (Guy Kibbee) is torn between selecting a replacement suggested by his party’s political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) or a reform candidate suggested by citizens’ committees. His sons convince him to instead nominate a popular scouting leader Jefferson Smith (James Stewart). Since the appointment is only for a few months, everyone believes that the noble but naïve Smith will keep his mouth shut and just occupy the seat for a short time.

Stewart does a great job of portraying Smith, at first awed by the symbolism of Washington DC and the majesty of the Senate. Smith’s mentor and the senior senator from his state, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) advises Smith to work on some small legislation to keep him busy. Despite Paine’s public persona as honest man, he’s working for Taylor’s machine, and wants to keep Smith from learning about a bill which contains a dam-building graft scheme.

Smith works with his world-weary and cynical assistant Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) who teaches him how the sausage is made in the Senate while at the same time his optimism begins to rub off on her. Unfortunately, Smith’s bill for a national boys’ camp uses the same land as dam project. To cover their tracks, Paine and the Taylor machine frame Smith for corruption. Which leads to the final act, the famous and dramatic filibuster in the Senate.

This movie is considered inspirational, although I find it uninspiring that Smith only succeeds because he is able to make Paine feel shame, and then Paine makes a full confession. After all, Senators today won’t even apologize for mistakes they’ve made in the past, much less admit to corruption. In the past four years we’ve seen members of the Senate choosing to look the other way in full knowledge of corruption and crimes that affect the very heart of our democracy and the lives of millions of people. So I don’t believe that standing against corruption like Smith will change the hearts of the wicked, but I do believe it is correct to stand for America’s best ideals and what is best for the country, nonetheless.

This movie features some terrific acting, especially from Stewart, Raines, and Arthur. I particularly like the depiction of Saunders as an intelligent and independent woman within the government, something else you don’t expect to see in a movie from the 1930s. I also like Capra’s direction and some of the subtle choices he made to undergird his theme. For example, when Smith is reading the Gettysburg Address at the Lincoln Memorial, an elderly Black man (possibly born in slavery) is seen in the background.

This is definitely one of the great films of all-time and one that remains relevant to our times.


Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Forrest Gump (1994)


Title: Forrest Gump
Release Date: July 6, 1994
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Production Company: The Tisch Company
Summary/Review:

When I see Forrest Gump on the AFI 100 list, I know it doesn’t belong there. On the other hand, there’s a cottage industry that’s arisen over the past 26 years that insists that Forrest Gump is on of the worst movies of all time, and I don’t think that’s right either. I remember watching and enjoying Forrest Gump in the movie theaters all those years and liking and enjoying it. Revisiting it now, I still like and enjoy it. And that’s fine.

I think Forrest Gump gets its reputation for good or for bad because it is a movie that is hard to get a handle on. It’s not really a comedy and it’s not really a drama. It’s famous for digitally editing Tom Hanks into moments from history, but that’s more of a running gag than the point of the movie. It’s considered inspirational, but a lot of what happens in the movie is very dark and the protagonist is just completely unware of that. The movie is slammed for being a nostalgia trough for Baby Boomers, but it is also a caustic satire of that same generation. Gump is claimed by conservatives as a beacon of traditional American values, but he’s often quite progressive for his place and time. Gump talks an awful lot, but does he ever say anything meaningful?

If there’s one thing that bugs me about this movie, it is the problem of Jenny. Not Robin Wright’s performance, which is as good as could be, but the fact that her character seems to exist to suffer. It’s like a type of cruel pornography.

That aside, it’s a clever and entertaining movie with some good acting by Hanks, Wright, Gary Sinise (as Lieutenant Dan) and others. If you can see it as something other than one of the best movies or worst movies of all time, it may just be an enjoyable couple of hours of your time.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)


Title: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Release Date: July 19, 1991
Director: Pete Hewitt
Production Company: Nelson Entertainment | Interscope Communications
Summary/Review:

This sequel to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure got good reviews at the time of its release but I never got around to watching it until now. Wisely, the filmmakers went for a plotline that didn’t rehash the gags of the first movie.  Bizarrely, they instead made a movie that is partially a parody of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

Bill & Ted are high school graduates with their own apartment, hoping to marry their “chaste” medieval girlfriends. In the intervening years, they appear to have become more alternative than metal (Ted in particular is looking grunge and the band Primus makes an appearance). In the future utopia built on Bill & Ted’s music, a rebel gym teacher Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) sends back evil Bill & Ted robots to kill the real Bill & Ted. Thus begins the Bogus Journey where Bill & Ted must outwit Death (William Sadler) in various board games, travel to Hell and Heaven, and return to Earth to win a Battle of the Bands.

Like its predecessor, the movie is full or cornball gags that grow increasingly weird while also having a wholesome, feel-good sheen. Sadler’s Death is particularly a hilarious scene-stealer and unexpected sidekick.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove (1964) #AtoZChallenge


I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

Title: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Release Date: January 29, 1964
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Production Company: Hawk Films
Synopsis:

A rogue United States Air Force general, Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) initiates a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union using protocols that were designed only to be used if the President and federal government were incapacitated.  Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) of the UK Royal Air Force attempts to talk Ripper down, but soon realizes that Ripper is paranoid beyond rationality.

Meanwhile, President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers, again) meets in the War Room to discuss how to avert catastrophe.  General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) advises going all-in on a nuclear attack on the USSR to reduce American casualties.  But with the help of the Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski (Peter Bull) and Mandrake, the bomber wing is recalled.

Unfortunately, one B-52 Stratofortress bomber under the command of Major T. J. “King” Kong (Slim Pickens) loses its radio equipment and cannot be called back or shot down in time.  The Soviets have created a Doomsday Device that detonates if their country is struck by a nuclear attack and will lead to the death of all human and animal life on the planet for 93 years.  German scientific adviser Dr. Strangelove (Sellers, in his third and most bizarre role) suggests a small population of Americans can be persevere by living in a deep mine shift.  The movie ends with the world’s destruction by nuclear explosions as cheerful music plays.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

I had a sick day from high school and decided to watch some of the movies my mom had taped on VHS.  Dr. Strangelove quickly became one of my favorite movies. It was one of those discoveries you have when you’re a kid when you think no one before the seventies swore or said anything bad about the government, and then you learn that your fore bearers could do very sophisticated satire indeed.  I remember in college when a professor had a screening of the movie and I brought some friends along who’d never seen it. Then I got to watch them as the brilliance of this movie slowly dawned on them.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered the details and the major plot points very well.  And all those brilliant, quotable lines.

You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company.

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.

If the pilot’s good, see, I mean if he’s reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low… oh you oughta see it sometime. It’s a sight. A big plane like a ’52… varrrooom! Its jet exhaust… frying chickens in the barnyard!

I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious…service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

Mr. President! We must not alloooooooooow a mine shaft gap!!

Sir! I have a plan… Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!

What Did I Forget?:

I noticed things I’d never realized before including:

  • The President’s phone call to the Soviet premier, where he talks to him like he’s calming a child, is very much like a Bob Newhart sketch.
  • Dr. Strangelove is visible at the table in the War Room far earlier in the movie than I realized.
  • Just how brilliant George C. Scott is at military double speak such as “I hate to judge before all the facts are in,” as well as the sheer joy he takes in describing the skill of the US pilots before realizing they’re doomed.
  • The War Room spends a lot of time just talking about ridiculous stuff that they don’t have time to talk about.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

I believe this is the only Stanley Kubrick comedy, and that is due to the fact that Kubrick and his writers realized that it was impossible to tell this story as a drama.  The movie starts out playing it straight and only gradually ramps up the humor until it reaches its absurd climax.  It’s too bad Kubrick didn’t do more comedies.

Peter Sellers in his triple role, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickens all put in spectacular performances.  Curiously, with the exception of Dr. Strangelove, none of the characters act in a particularly over-the-top way, but the often mundane dialogue they have in extreme circumstances leads to hilarity.

I can’t imagine what it was like to watch this movie a little over a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and months after President Kennedy’s assassination.  Some people say that The Sixties began in 1964, and Dr. Strangelove played a big part in creating the social change of the turbulent decade to come.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

This movie is 56 years old and should feel incredibly dated.  Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, this movie still feels frighteningly relevant because we still live in a world with arsenals of nuclear weapons that can be accessed by any lunatic that gains power.

Is It a Classic?:

Most assuredly.  Probably in my all-time Top Ten.

Rating: *****

5 more all-time favorite movies starting with D:

  1. Dead Poets Society (1989)
  2. Delicatessen (1991)
  3. Do the Right Thing (1989)
  4. Donnie Darko (2001)
  5. Duck Soup (1933)

What is your favorite movie starting with D?  What would you guess will be my movie starting with E?  (Hint: an 80s movie about the rise of personal computers).  Let me know in the comments!

Classic Movie Review: Sunset Boulevard (1950)


Title: Sunset Boulevard
Release Date: August 10, 1950
Director: Billy Wilder
Production Company: Paramount Pictures
Summary/Review:

Since I’ve started my Classic Films project, I’ve watched the best movies from three decades of early Hollywood. The first movie I watched from the 1950s finds Hollywood reflecting on its own history and the dark underbelly of the film industry.  Joe Gillis (Williams Holden) is a struggling screen writer who escapes the repossession men trying to take his car by parking it in the garage of a seemingly abandoned mansion on Sunset Boulevard.

Joe discovers that the house is in fact inhabited by Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her obsequious butler Max (Erich von Stroheim) living in an elegant decrepitude. Appropriately, Swanson was a silent film star in real life and von Stroheim was an actor and director.  They worked together on Queen Kelly in the late 1920s, a film not released in the United States, but clips of it are seen in Sunset Boulevard as Norma Desmond’s work.

Norma is working on a script for her “return” to Hollywood greatness and hires Joe on the spot to polish the script.  Her offer includes housing in the mansion and Joe accepts what appears to be a plum job to help pay off his debts.  Over time, Norma becomes more controlling of Joe’s life and falling in love with him. Joe feels trapped in the situation as Norma loses her mental faculties.

Gloria Swanson puts in a wonderful over-the-top performance as someone who is always Acting! decades after her career faded away.  Swanson was only 50 years old when this movie was made so it’s ridiculous that she’s constantly referred to as aged, but then again, that is an accurate depiction of Hollywood’s attitude towards older women. Holden is a good straight man for all the weirdness of Swanson and von Stroheim.  Nancy Olson has a great part as a script reader, Betty, who works on writing a script with Joe when he slips away from Norma’s mansion, and is also his love interest.  Cecil B. DeMille plays himself in a scene where Norma returns to the Paramount lot where he treats her with great respect while evading any promises about actually producing her horrible script.

The movie is filmed with the light and shadows of film noir, which is effective even as the movie teeters on the border of comedy and tragedy.  There’s a particularly effective shot of Joe’s body floating in a pool, shot from below, and Wilder’s direction is top notch.  This movie is worthy of its reputation as one of the all-time greats.

Rating: *****

Classic Movie Review: The Great Dictator (1940)


Title: The Great Dictator
Release Date: October 15, 1940
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Production Company: Charles Chaplin Film Corporation
Summary/Review:

13 years after the first “talkie,” Charlie Chaplin finally made his first film with true sound.  And let me tell you, it is very strange to hear Chaplin talking.  But he puts words to good use in this startling satire of Adolf Hitler and fascism. Filming began the same month that World War II began and The Great Dictator appeared in theaters at the same time the Battle of Britain was raging.  Not knowing the full extent of the Nazi horror was justification for turning away Jewish refugees on the MS St. Louis in 1939, and yet this movie refers to “concentration camps” by name.

Chaplin plays two roles in this movie. One is a Jewish barber who loses his memory in one of the final battles of the Great War while valiantly aiding Commander Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) secure valuable documents.  20 years later he’s finally recovered and returns to work at his barbershop in the ghetto, unaware of the rise of fascism and the persecution of the Jews.  In this role, Chaplin very much resembles his Little Tramp character in attire.  The barber befriends Mr. Jaeckel (Maurice Moscovich, who liked so much in Make Way for Tomorrow and falls in love with Hannah (Paulette Goddard), who help him adjust to the new situation. Schultz is even able to arrange a brief reprieve of the oppression in the ghetto in recognition of the barber’s heroism in World War I.

Chaplin’s other role is Adenoid Hynkel, Dictator of Tomainia, a not at all subtle parody of Adolf Hitler.  Chaplain mimics Hitler’s oratory style, complete with wild arm gestures, in a German-sound gibberish.  His depiction of a power hungry tyrant who is vain, irrational, and stupid feels a bit close to the surface to watch in 2019.  Other parodies target Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring, and Benito Mussolini as Garbitsch (Henry Daniell), Herring (Billy Gilbert), Benzino Napaloni (Jack Oakie) respectively.

It is not at all surprising with Chaplin playing two characters that it will eventually lead to mistaken identity.  But what is stunning is the speech the barber delivers in the guise of Hynkel at the film’s conclusion.  All the comedy ceases, and Chaplin essentially speaks as himself for several minutes on peace and unity.  It’s a powerful ending to a film that I’m still amazed even exists.

Rating: ****