A case of mistaken identity

Chaplin gets to his big speech in THE GREAT DICTATOR in an almost indecent hurry.

First, Schultz and the Jewish barber escape their prison camp, No evidence as to HOW this is achieved, Chaplin simply cuts to them on the open road — vaguely similar to the closing shot of MODERN TIMES but not the same location. The escape itself is elided, as in DOWN BY LAW. This road shot also puts me in mind of the recurring interstitial image in Bunuel’s DISCRETE CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE.

Hynkel, duck hunting at the Osterlich border, falls in the water. Despite his costume, he is immediately mistaken for the Jewish barber and arrested.

Nobody, until now, has remarked on the curious resemblance between A.H. and the J.b. In fact, they still don’t notice it, they merely assume one is the other. This is fairly credible military/police thinking, though: they’re looking for a guy, and they see someone who looks like that guy, so they grab him.

Very good suspense when the barber has been misidentified but doesn’t know it.

Model shot — tracking shot! — a sort of tabletop miniature with haystacks with hatches — in the background, possibly the real Woodland Hills again.

So the invasion of Osterlich is on — scenes of violence and death in the ghetto, and Hannah’s farm is attacked. One stormtrooper knocks Hannah to the ground and strolls off, eating a bunch of grapes — anticipating Lubitsch’s later depiction of Nazis in TO BE OR NOT TO BE — rather than relishing their cruelty, they’re already BORED of it.

Hail the conquering Hynkel! The Jewish barber and Schultz are driven up to a big Nuremberg-type stand where he’s to address the conquering troops. He mounts the podium. More excellent suspense. Garbitsch and Herring are watching.

Comedy with collapsing chair. Keystone-vintage knockabout. Interestingly, the kind of gag that would work whether this was Hynkel or the barber. Maybe better suited to Hynkel, actually — comedy of deflation.

Henry Daniell makes a short fascist speech in front of the obvious painted backdrop. More of the film’s cardboard Nazism.

“You must speak,” says Schultz. “I can’t,” says the barber. An encapsulation of Chaplin’s own attitude as recently as the film before this one.

It was my intention to cover the speech today but I was working on another project, and now it’s 6pm, so I guess that’s for tomorrow. The speech is a big thing one-tenth of the film’s runtime.

TOMORROW — to be concluded


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