(Sir) Charles (Spencer) Chaplin Otis Ferguson - Essay

Otis Ferguson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Great Dictator opens on some pretty dated nonsense in the war zone and the kind of lighting and movie action they used in Shoulder Arms. What's new is the acting, the new and different character, a mixture of sharp mimicry and the devices of absurdity. And as we might have expected from the wonderful double-talk song in Modern Times, Chaplin is as acute and perfect verbally as he is in pantomime: he has the splenetic and krauty fustian of the German orator as exactly as Hitler himself….

[When a scene is funny] it is funny as always, in the shop, on the street, around the chimney pots, with some of the oldest Chaplin favorites still peeping through. But it is also tragic because a people is being persecuted; these Jews are straight characters, not the old cartoons; and the laughter chokes suddenly and is reluctant to start again. Chaplin likes to pull out all the stops on sentimental passages, but this thing is too near and meaningful. It isn't that a comedian should be denied indignation and kept clowning forever; it is that old thing in all art of the demands of unity, of a complete and sustained mood or tone. He was always a funny figure against the rude world, but the gulf between a kick in the pants and a pogrom is something even his talent for the humorous-pathetic will not cross. And his unrelieved six-minute exhortation to the downtrodden of the world, look up, stand up, etc., is not only a bad case of overwriting but dramatically and even inspirationally futile. (p. 315)

Otis Ferguson, "Less Time for Comedy" (originally published in The New Republic, Vol. 103, No. 19, November 4, 1940), in The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson, edited by Robert Wilson (© 1971 by Temple University), Temple University Press, 1971, pp. 314-16.