Archive for November 2, 2022

Brahms stroker

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2022 by dcairns

THE GREAT DICTATOR, continued.

The big gap between posts on this subject can be attributed to that feeling you get when you’re near the end of a journey — the desire to slow down and relish it. I’m only halfway through TGD but I’m quite close to the end of the Chaplin oeuvre as a whole. It’s like when Alvin Straight stops for a beer near the end of his odyssey in THE STRAIGHT STORY. Only I didn’t get any beer.

Now read on:

Big set-piece where Charlie the barber shaves Chester Conklin, in his last co-starring appearance with his Keystone Kolleague. The action is timed, with split-second precision, to Brahms’ Hungarian Dance,

Obviously this is an amazing tour-de-force. Hard to pinpoint why it’s FUNNY — I guess because the music is an incongruous accompaniment to this mundane activity, and yet the exact timing makes it seem like it was composed to order.

I note that the national currency of Tomainia appears to be the cent.

The Criterion disc includes a comparable scene from Sydney Chaplin’s 1921 KING, QUEEN AND JOKER, which I’d like to see. The clip certainly shows that the younger Chaplin sibling was influenced by the earlier scene, but he’s able to take advantage of the close synch sound cinema affords. With the scene performed to Brahms it becomes a different animal altogether.

Syd’s grinning sadism with the hot towel is a little alarming, given what we know of his later activities.

Who’s the guy with the beard? I recognize him, I know I do, but no cast list is available.

It’s not just the idea of a choreographed shaving scene — KQ&J is about lookalikes, both played by Syd, one a king and the other a commoner. Eighteen years later, Charles has decided there’s something in the idea.

Scene in the ghetto. Exposition. Little Aggie makes her little appearance. Francesca Santoro had just appeared with Laurel & Hardy in SAPS AT SEA and would do voice work in BAMBI. A pretty remarkable career for one not yet ten years old. She’s still with us, it seems. I wonder what she can recall.

Schultz (Reginald Gardiner) falls foul of Hynkel. Guards are summoned via a microphone hidden in a fruit bowl, which feels like an early sound cinema joke a la SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. It’s notable that, even as he mouths the message of the film — “Your cause is doomed to failure because it’s built upon the stupid, ruthless persecution of innocent people,” — Schultz sounds like a stiff-necked prig and a dolt. Not until the end of the film will anybody say what Chaplin believes in a way that’s really calculated to convince.

Schultz is an amazing character because he’s the “good German” (OK, “good Tomainian”) and yet he exists to make more trouble for the Jewish barber. We don’t LIKE him.

Infuriated by Schultz’ defiance, Hynkel curses up a presumably blue streak in Tomainian, savagely peels a banana, and then discards it. “Schultz, why have you forsaken me?” is a bold line. Hynkel paraphrases the Messiah.

Then Henry Daniell leans forward in an armchair — rather startling, this — he’s been in shot all along, but completely frozen and unnoticable. I guess I have a tyrannosaur’s eye, like Ruth Shepley.

Comic difficulty with a cape: Chaplin’s enormous skill with objects — how many takes did it take for him to flounder about in the cape for just long enough and then get it stuck over his face? A thing of beauty.

The offscreen banker Epstein has refused to loan Tomainia money for its invasion of Osterlich (you remember). So the ceasefire is over: the ghetto is in peril again.

Who would have played Epstein if Chaplin had decided to show him, I wonder?

TBC