Chaplin's The Great Dictator is a superb film with great comedy and a lot of heart. It succeeds in poking fun at a very serious situation without being disrespectful. Granted at the time it was made the atrocities of the Nazis were not known to the extent to which they existed, and had they been known perhaps this film would not have been made.
The film follows two main characters, both played by Chaplin. The first is an unnamed Jewish barber, a veteran of the first world war. He was injured at the end of the war in a plane crash. He was in a coma a very long time and awakened nearly a decade later into the Hynkel regime. Hynkel is the dictator of the Jewish barber's homeland created by Chaplin to be a spoof on Hitler.
The barber returns to his shop (which is now covered in cobwebs and dust) and begins to set up when a couple of stormtroopers come and begin to give him trouble. Not knowing what the current situation of his country is, the barber puts up a fight. He appears to be getting beaten, but a lovely neighbor girl (Paulette Goddard) gives the help of her frying pan for his rescue.
The second character is the dictator of Tomania, (the fictional country made to represent Nazi Germany) Adenoid Hynkel. Hynkel is not as ruthless as the real-life Hitler; he is made to seem more like a puppet to his right hand man Garbitsch (pronounced garbage). Garbitsch is Hynkel's top advisor and does almost all the thinking for the dictator (reminded me a bit of the Bush-Cheney relationship as depicted in Oliver Stone's picture W.).
The film is really quite outstanding, with shining performances by Chaplin as usual as well as Ms. Goddard and Maurice Moscovitch as Mr. Jaeckel. You'll get a kick out of Chaplin's German as he often throws "wiener schnitzel" and "sauerkraut" into the Hynkel speeches. An outstanding script written by an amazingly talented individual, not since Chaplin has one man been able to do so much for the world of comedic films with the exception of maybe Woody Allen.
If you are a fan of classic films, but are unable to sit through a silent then I would recommend The Great Dictator as your introduction into Chaplin films. You'll certainly get a better sense of who Charlie Chaplin was then you will in, say, A Countess from Hong Kong. Also an interesting look into a perception of Nazi Germany right in the heat of the war.
Overall 3.5/4 Stars