Archive for August 4, 2022

Schultz Upside-Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2022 by dcairns

So far THE GREAT DICTATOR has been an inspired hybrid — a visual comedy with occasional dialogue. It becomes an excellent talking picture as well when Reginald Gardiner as Schultz enters the fray.

Schultz is the film’s obligatory Good German, or Good Tomanian. Chaplin makes brilliant use of him, but he’s not a character who usually receives much commentary.

Gardiner is best-known, to me, anyway, as Hillary Aimes, the gent with the blocked sink in CLUNY BROWN, possibly my favourite Lubitsch film. Aimes starts off as the star of the show then disappears before the first act has even been concluded, never to be seen again. Lubitsch was apparently quite relaxed about such things. Gardiner had appeared in A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS and would do a lot of good work in the silly ass line. An extra in Hitchcock’s THE LODGER, he based his film career thereafter in Hollywood and prospered moderately.

The beauty of Schultz is he’s such a pip. A benevolent Tomanian, he’s able to save the Jewish barber’s life and put a stop to brutalities in the ghetto for a brief spell. But otherwise, he’s a pain in the neck. The most outrageous incident comes when, having fallen foul of the regime, he has to be sheltered in the ghetto. Jews protecting a German, a reversal of the natural order of things, and a frightful imposition.

Schultz starts as he means to go on, getting the Jewish barber in trouble, with no actual malice on his part.

The barber has been placed in charge of a machine gun. He seems incapable of hitting anyone with it — can’t have Charlie or his close relative actually taking human life — but is distracted by Schultz’s cries of distress. The plummy Tomanian is lying exhausted some short distance from his monoplane. I don’t know why Chaplin didn’t have him be injured — I guess because that wouldn’t be funny. So he’s just overcome with lassitude.

The barber helps him to his craft and they take off, but then Schultz keeps passing out, thereby presenting difficulties for the JB, as he will continue to do later. The plane flies upside down — for the first time since THE GOLD RUSH, Chaplin transforms himself into a tiny articulated puppet hanging over a void. Some excellent direction here — the decisions about when to have the camera upside-down with the characters, or whether to observe them BE upside-down with the camera rightside-up, are shrewd and bang-on and the cutting between them is quite bold if you think about it.

And the dialogue is superb — not just Schultz’s windy monologue — “Hilda will be in the garden now…” delivered oblivious to the crash-dive they’re on, but Charlie’s very short, clipped responses — “I know it!” “Impossible!” His reply to “Can you fly a plane?” — “I can try!” — is almost as good as Tom Jones’ in MARS ATTACKS! — “Sure, you got one?”

Suspended upside down, Chaplin finds his cockney accent creeps back in, subtly.

Schultz concluding his pastoral reminiscences uninterrupted by the plane smashing up is one of Fiona’s favourite jokes in the film.

And then it turns out that the mission, to deliver important despatches, has failed — Tomania has surrendered. Charlie has lost the war. So is everything that follows his fault? Or his doppelganger’s?

Or Schultz’s?