Formal Analysis: 'to Be or Not to Be' and 'the Great Dictator'

Formal Analysis: 'to Be or Not to Be' and 'the Great Dictator'


Ernst Lubitsch's 'To be or not to be' and Charlie Chaplin's 'The Great Dictator' are undoubtedly two of the best classic comedies ever to be produced in the history of cinema, that comprehensively detail a prescient assault on Hitler and his ideologies. Both masterpieces were carefully crafted to depict a deeply political and a deadly serious subject through a rather distinctive and witty form of parody.

'To be or not to be' is a black comedy that employs direct representations of historical figures and events of the Third Reich, where as 'The Great Dictator' is merely an adaptation. The latter portrays the characters of Adenoid Hynkel, a parody of Hitler, as a ruthless leader in control of power to diminish humanity, and of a nameless Jewish barber as the voice of the innocent victims of war, who later becomes an unwitting hero restoring peace and harmony among the people.

The first two scenes chosen from the respective films, will be analyzed mainly based on what appears to be a common storytelling element in both films; a classic mistaken identity ruse.

'To Be or Not To Be': Hitler wandering around in the high streets of Warsaw

"It's the man with the little moustache!"

The narrator takes the audience through a series of progressive shots to explain how 'The Great Fuhrer' happened to show up in the streets of Warsaw and the reaction of the passers-by to this highly unexpected encounter. Hitler is being straightforwardly addressed as 'the man with the little moustache', and as appears in the following scene,

"...he's just a man with a little moustache" "well, so is Hitler...",

clearly shows the abundant use of political satire to portray certain individuals in a direct manner of burlesque. By doing so, some can argue that, only little thought was given to the overall message of the story, and that all the aspects of storytelling had been directed towards the cause of making a complete fool out...

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