Archive for the “Tomanian Talkie” (Week Ten) Category

Tomanian Talkie

Posted in "Tomanian Talkie" (Week Ten) on June 16, 2011 by John R. Kitch

"Adenoid Hinkle" (Charles Chaplin) salutes and presents a speech in the comically absurd Tomanian language in a scene from "The Great Dictator".

This may surprise some people, but motion pictures did not always have sound. This fact even amazes modern filmmakers, who are still stunned when they realize (usually during the editing process) that movies are now “two-thirds sound and one-third image”. In others word, it would be baffling to watch a Michael Bay film and see the explosion, but not hear it. It would seem very incomplete. The first commercially known film to exhibit sound was Warner Bros. ‘s “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson and released in 1927. With the addition of sound to film, the old, highly expressive style of acting became “unnatural”. The beloved, on-screen antics of Fatty Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, and Charles Chaplin were challenged. They knew how to act, but they were unsure of what to sound like. Although some like Arbuckle and Keaton sadly faded at this point in cinematic history, Chaplin remained unmoved in his pioneering filmmaking. His career stayed alive into the 1940s, and the insane politics of Europe became a target in his first, full-length “talkie”.

“The Great Dictator” is a direct jab to Adolf Hitler and the hateful ideology he created and promoted. Adenoid Hinkle (Chaplin) is the dictator of Tomania, a country in central Europe that is planning to go to war twenty years after its crushing defeat in the Great War. Part of Hinkle’s plan is to persecute the Jewish population, who begin to be bullied by the Tomanian Army. A Jewish Barber (also played by Chaplin), returns to his shop after finishing rehabilitation at a hospital where he was treated for amnesia after being injured in the Great War. Since he has no knowledge of Hinkle’s rise to power, he, without any hesitation, fights a group of Tomanian soldiers who paint “JEW” across the windows of his shop. His act is seen as courageous to Hannah (Chaplin’s wife, Paulette Goddard) and the rest of the ghetto, and the Barber ultimately becomes a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship. To the Barber’s surprise, he gets a chance to be heard in the climax of the film (I won’t give it away), and his message completely counters the hate and power-hunger of Hinkle.  

“The Great Dictator” was made at a time in the history of the world when one of its primary intentions was to insult the cruel and wicked tactics of Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Hideki Tojo. However, the film stands the tests of time, as its over-all message is universal. “Do not hate each other. Help each other.” It reminds us to open a door, lend a hand to those who trip, get groceries for the house-ridden, lend the neighbor some gasoline, or just say a kind word to a depressed friend. As war rages on in Libya and Syria, and ties ware thin between the U.S. and Pakistan, we are also reminded by the “Great Dictator” that we should attempt to heal relations with our fellow people and live with each other in peace, no matter what each of us believe.

The Barber says it all in one quote: “We think too much, and feel too little.”

In this day and age, perhaps nothing is more closer to the truth.

“The Great Dictator” and all images from it are property of  United Artists.

Used image from: