The Great Dictator (1940)


After the movie world transitioned to sound, Charles Chaplin continued making silent films through the 1930s with City Lights and Modern Times. Not until 1940 did he make his first talkie. Playing both an unnamed Jewish barber who fought in the first world war and the dictator of Tomania, Adenoid Hynkel. This was the right time, the right way, and the right subject matter for his first talkie. Some of the funniest moments involve Chaplin’s voice (the barber’s confused murmurs when caught in a mist as a soldier, unwittingly finding himself on the other side of the battle and the mock German he uses for the dictator involving mostly food and scatological words, an influence on the language of the Despicable Me minions). Chaplin wrote the story, directed the film, and played both of the leading roles all with the point of leading up a speech he would give, one of the most electrifying scenes in film history.

Though the sound is an important way that Chaplin achieved his goals, he never abandoned the physical humor that made him so successful. He cuts hair and shaves a customer in rhythm to one of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. He resists storm troopers through a hilarious choreographed routine. Most importantly, Chaplin uses techniques of physical comedy to have the impact he wanted his movie to have. In the scene pictured above, Chaplin literally walks on walls and dances with a giant balloon globe. Although he’s doing things that are common in the silent physical comedy of his earlier years, there is nothing at all funny about this scene. Showing the depths of the dictator’s self-delusion and all-consuming desire for world domination, the scene is more terrifying than anything horror movies could ever dream of delivering.

What makes every scene of the movie work is the fact that Chaplin plays both of the main characters. He mocks and uses to his advantage the strange fact that he (a person of Jewish descent) and Adolph Hitler looked so much alike. He used his comedy, his physical agility, his personal convictions, and even his voice to try to change the world. In 1940, America didn’t have much understanding of what was happening in Germany, and it showed little interest in intervention until it was attacked itself. But Chaplin used this movie to try to convince the country that there was reason to get involved, to fight for democracy, peace, and equity. Several scenes in the movie show a very limited understanding of what concentration camps look like so that today’s viewers may be put off at how much it minimizes the atrocity. This is exactly why it’s important for us to know and to remember that this movie was made two years before the U.S. entered WWII. Chaplin used whatever knowledge he had to make his case and a brilliant movie. Limited as it was, he did everything in his power to fight the Nazis through The Great Dictator.

The powerful speech that closes the movie is not so much a speech to the Nazis of the world though the context of the movie places it there. It is a speech to Americans and to others who at least had the pretense of desire to help others. He called for people to embrace humanity and to fight for what is right in a way that breaks through past the brainwashing and demoralization of both tyrants and of the inner tyranny of fear that he thought was keeping Americans inactive. In hindsight, I think Chaplin would say that had America intervened earlier than they did, the results of WWII would have been more like those in the movie. Whether or not there is any truth to that, watching The Great Dictator is much more than watching a great movie. It is watching the passion of a man using everything he has to make the world he knows a better place.


Also directed by Charles Chaplin:

The Gold Rush (1925)

Modern Times (1936)

Go to links of all my reviews


Cannes Film Festival 2000-2016

Throughout May I’ve been looking at every year of the Cannes Film Festival. Now that this year’s festival is complete, here is my last list of rankings of films I’ve seen that screened in competition for each year of the Cannes Film Festival.



4. Nurse Betty (USA) D

3. Yiyi: A One and a Two (Taiwan) C+

2. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (USA) A

1. Dancer in the Dark (Denmark) A Palm d’Or Winner




4. The Anniversary Party (USA) D

3. The Man Who Wasn’t There (USA) A

2. Shrek (USA) A

1. Moulin Rouge (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: The Son’s Room (Italy)




3. About Schmidt (USA) C+

2. Punch-Drunk Love (USA) A-

1. Bowling for Columbine (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: The Pianist (Poland)




4. The Barbarian Invasions (Canada) C

3. The Triplets of Belleville (France) A

2. Mystic River (USA) A

1. American Splendor (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: Elephant (USA)




3. Shrek 2 (USA) B-

2. The Ladykillers (USA) B-

1. The Motorcycle Diaries (Argentina) A-

Palm d’Or: Farenheit 9/11



Palm d’Or: The Child (Belgium)



2. Babel (USA) C+

1. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (UK) C+ Palm d’Or Winner



1. No Country for Old Men (USA) B-

Palm d’Or: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Poland)



3. Wendy and Lucy (USA) A-

2. Changeling (USA) A+

1. The Class (France) A+ Palm d’Or Winner



4. Precious (USA) B

3. Taking Woodstock (USA) A-

2. Up (USA) A+

1. Inglourious Basterds (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: The White Ribbon (Austria)



Palm d’Or: Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand)




6. Footnote (Israel) C+

5. We Have a Pope (Italy) A

4. Take Shelter (USA) A

3. The Kid with a Bike (Belgium) A

2. The Tree of Life (USA) A+ Palm d’Or

1. The Artist (France) A+




5. Renoir (France) C

4. Amour (Austria) B- Palm d’Or Winner

3. Moonrise Kingdom (USA) A-

2. Ernest & Celestine (France) A

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA) A+




4. The Past (France) A

3. Nebraska (USA) A+

2. Inside Llewyn Davis (USA) A+

1. Fruitvale Station (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: Blue Is the Warmest Color (Greece)




2. Foxcatcher (USA) A-

1. Timbuktu (Mauritania) A-

Palm d’Or: Winter Sleep (Turkey)




5. The Assassin (Taiwan) C

4. Mustang (France) B

3. The Lobster (Greece) B

2. Amy (UK) B+

1. Carol (USA) A

Palm d’Or: Dheepan (France)



1. Captain Fantastic (USA) B-

Palm d’Or: I, Daniel Blake (UK)

M (1931)


Fritz Lang’s M is probably the greatest inspiration to all all horror films from 1931 forward. With cinematography that highlights shadows, sound that follows its villain’s every footstep, and an eery signature to know that the villain is about to pursue (for M, that signature is Peter Lorre’s whistling of Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King”), all the makings of a horror film began here.

But, strangely enough, M is not a horror movie. It founded many of the techniques that are musts in horror movies, yet its purpose is not to incite fear. But it is about fear. It’s about the inner life and the actions of a terrorist. The word “terrorist” is a strange one since it doesn’t convey murder but we always use it to refer to people who commit or attempt murder. A terrorist is not just a murderer, but a person who wants to control a large group of people through fear. Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre’s character) is a terrorist.

We see the results of Hans’ terrorism before we ever see him. The opening scene of M shows a group of small children playing a game where they chant “The man in black is coming soon to chop you up.” A mother tries to stop them, gripped by her own fear for her children, but another mother tells her to leave them alone because as long as the kids are singing, they know they’re ok. We see that Hans has been effective in controlling the whole community by fear.

Police officials fight over how to find the murderer. They’re in pursuit of their own control. They don’t mind so much that the community is overcome by fear, so long as they can be the heroes that bring the murder to justice. There’s no need to try to bring the community together after the tragedies it has endured as far as the police department is concerned. But they don’t have much of a chance of finding him when all they do is fight amongst each other, constantly compromising their investigation.

The rest of the town, left to themselves in fear and anger, are ready for vengeance. They’re so naturally overcome by the fear and anger that results from terrorism that they’re liable to commit their own injustice, so ready and willing to kill the killer that they could very easily condemn the wrong person. The division between the local authorities and the public creates so much confusion that the clear clues given to the audience are missed by the characters even though they should be obvious.

There’s no good news in M. It’s one of the bleakest films ever made, but that bleakness is more because of the community’s reaction and division resulting from the murders even than from the murders themselves. There is a strong message behind the bleakness that a choice always exists in desperate times of trauma, grief, and the effects of terrorism. The choice is for people to unify through shared values to heal where necessary and even to make a positive impact together or to divide, letting fear, anger, and the terrorists win. Of course there’s no choice over whether people experience terrorism and the fear and anger that go along with it, but how they relate to the other people that experience it with them makes a great difference in the future of communities gripped by any type of terrorism. has no good news in it because its characters choose division, but watching M we can still find good news in knowing there is a better choice available with much better outcomes.

Cannes Film Festival 1983-1999

Here’s my third list of films screened at the annual Cannes Film Festival. For the festivals held from 1983-1999 I rank the films I’ve seen that screened in competition and give a grade for each of them.



2. The King of Comedy (USA) D-

1. The Meaning of Life (UK) A

Palm d’Or: The Ballad of Narayama (Japan)



I haven’t seen any films that screened in 1984.

Palm d’Or: Paris, Texas (West Germany)




2. Mask (USA) F

1. The Kiss of the Spider Woman (Brazil/USA) A-

Palm d’Or: When Father Was Away on Business (Yugoslavia)



1. The Mission (UK) C+ Palm d’Or Winner




1. Babette’s Feast (Denmark) A+

Palm d’Or: Under the Sun of Satan (France)



Palm d’Or: Pelle the Conqueror (Denmark)




2. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (USA) A Palm d’Or Winner

1. Do the Right Thing (USA) A+




1. Cyrano de Bergerac (France) A

Palm d’Or: Wild at Heart (USA)




1. Barton Fink (USA) A+ Palm d’Or Winner




5. Of Mice and Men (USA) B-

4. A Stranger among Us (USA) B

3. Strictly Ballroom (Australia) A

2. Howards End (UK) A

1. The Player (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: The Best Intentions (Sweden)




1. Much ado about Nothing (UK) A

Palm d’Or: TIE between Farewell My Concubine (China) & The Piano (New Zealand)




2. The Hudsucker Proxy (USA) A

1,  Pulp Fiction (USA) A+ Palm d’Or Winner




4. Angels and Insects (UK) B-

3. Carrington (UK) B-

2. The Madness of King George (UK) A

1. Ed Wood (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: Underground (Serbia)




2. Secrets and Lies (UK) A+ Palm d’Or Winner

1. Fargo (USA) A+




3. Happy Together (Hong Kong) C

2. L.A. Confidential (USA) A-

1. The Sweet Hereafter (Canada) A+

Palm d’Or: TIE between The Eel (Japan) & Taste of Cherry (Iran)



1. Life Is Beautiful (Italy) B+

Palm d’Or: Eternity and a Day (France)




1. The Straight Story (USA)A+

Palm d’Or: Rosetta (Belgium)

Captains Courageous (1937)


Some of the most bizarre “news” from the White House was published last week, informing us that our president gets two scoops of ice cream while each member of his staff gets only one. Of course nobody should be surprised to hear of more evidence that Donald Trump has the mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual constitution of a 10-year-old bully, but it it surprising to me just me how much he is like Harvey, the 10-year-old played by Freddie Bartholomew in Victor Fleming’s wonderful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous.

Harvey demands his way and is successful enough in his entitled manipulation to usually get his way no matter how much distress it causes others. He stays successful in his narcissistic ventures because of his money. As long as he’s given lots of money, he believes he can buy his way to anything he wants, and he often does. He bribes, he tricks, he schemes. He always has to be right, best, first. Sounds very familiar, right?

The good thing about 10-years, as opposed to a 70-year-old president, is that they are impressionable. Harvey was as unlikable as any child could be. As a result of one of his schemes to try to prove himself superior to others, he accidentally goes overboard on a cruise ship. He is rescued by a Portuguese fisherman named Manuel played by Spencer Tracy in the best performance of his career. Harvey is the way he is because nobody ever taught him differently or modeled anything different for him. His mother died when he was an infant, and his father left him with lots of money while attending to his business matters. The private school he went to didn’t know what to do with him as nobody there was capable of fulfilling the parental roles he needed most. But then came Manuel.

Manuel was the first person to recognize Harvey for what he was (spoiled, entitled, obnoxious, and completely lost within a world all his own where he could buy his way into or our of anything) and to treat him accordingly. This is exactly what Harvey needed and what helped him become a decent human being. Manuel is quickly and easily annoyed by Harvey as anyone would be, but this doesn’t stop him from loving Harvey. He becomes the father Harvey needs. He shows Harvey how to live in reality, how to work for what he needs and what he wants, and how to find real contentment. He demonstrates both his own contentment and Harvey’s lack of contentment in how he loves people, in how he works, in his deep passion for fishing, music, and other things that Harvey doesn’t understand. Most of all, he shows this contentment in how he communicates his faith in and love for God to Harvey. The Christianity lived in Captains Courageous is never the cheesy, lifeless, self-centered so-called Christianity of the TBN/Joel Osteen variety that has more in common with Harvey (before Manuel) and Mr. Trump than with Manuel. It is a life of sacrifice and suffering mixed with great joy and hope that make the sacrifice and suffering worthwhile. It is what allows Harvey accept love, to give love, and to become a good person.

Also directed by Victor Fleming: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Cannes Film Festival 1965-1982

Here’s week two of my spotlight on the Cannes Film Festivals. I’m ranking all the films I’ve seen that screened in competition each year of the festival and give grades to each. This week, it’s those that the festival showed between 1965 and 1982.


1. The Knack…And How to Get It (UK) C+ Palm d’Or Winner



1. Doctor Zhivago (USA) C+

Palm d’Or: TIE between The Birds, the Bees, and the Italians (Italy) and A Man and a Woman (France)



1. Blow-Up (UK) B- Palm d’Or Winner


1969 (No festival in 1968)



2. My Night at Maud’s (France) A

1. Easy Rider (UK) A+

Palm d’Or: If… (UK)



1. M*A*S*H (USA) C+ Palm d’Or Winner



1. Death in Venice (Italy) D

Palm d’Or: The Go-Between (UK)





2. Jeremiah Johnson (USA) A-

1. The Ruling Class (UK) A+

Palm d’Or: TIE between The Martei Affair (Italy) and The Working Class Go to Heaven (Italy)



1. Godspell (USA) C-

Palm d’Or: TIE between The Hireling (UK) and Scarecrow (USA)





2. The Sugarland Express (USA) C-

1. The Conversation (USA) A Palm d’Or Winner



Palm d’Or: Chronicle of the Years of Fire (Algeria)




2. Bugsy Malone (USA) B+

1. Taxi Driver (USA) A- Palm d’Or Winner



2. Car Wash (USA) C

1. Bound for Glory (USA) B-

Palm d’Or: Padre Padrone (Italy)




1. Coming Home (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Italy)





4. Norma Rae (USA) C

3. Days of Heaven (USA) C+

2. The China Syndrome (USA) A-

1. Apocalypse Now (USA) A+

Palm d’Or: TIE between Apocalypse Now (USA) and The Tin Drum (West Germany)



1. Breaker Morant (Australia) B+

Palm d’Or: TIE between All that Jazz (USA) and Kagemusha (Japan)



1. Chariots of Fire (UK) F

Palm d’Or: Man of Iron (Poland)



1. Missing (Greece) D+

Palm d’Or: TIE between Missing (Greece) and The Way (Turkey)

First 50 Masterpieces

Yesterday, I published my fiftieth review of a classic movie. Here is a list of links to all of the first 50. They’re listed in order of premier date.

Intolerance: Love’s Struggle throughout the Ages (1916)

The Gold Rush (1925)

Frankenstein (1931)

A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Rebecca (1940)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Saboteur (1942)

Casablanca (1942)

The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

Gaslight (1944)

Rome, Open City (1945)

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Monsieur Vincent (1947)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

The Snake Pit (1948)

Rashomon (1950)

Sunset Blvd. (1950)

All about Eve (1950)

A Place in the Sun (1951)

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Stalag 17 (1953)

River of No Return (1954)

On the Waterfront (1954)

A Star Is Born (1954)

Rebel without a Cause (1955)

Guys and Dolls (1955)

The Killing (1956)

The Bad Seed (1956)

Ben-Hur (1959)

Psycho (1960)

A View from the Bridge (1962)

David and Lisa (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather Part II (1974)

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

On Golden Pond (1981)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The Right Stuff (1983)

The Color Purple (1985)

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Forrest Gump (1994)

Home for the Holidays (1995)

Fargo (1996)

Joyeux Noel (2005)

The Yacoubian Building (2006)