As one would expect for this title Criterion has put together an intriguing assortment of supplements, starting with an audio commentary by Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran. Throughout the two take turns examining the many aspects of the film from its production history to the various controversies the filmís production caused. They explain the political climate of the time, the fears many had about what this film might do (specifically that it would anger Hitler), and the many hurdles Chaplin had to get through. They offer analysis of certain sequences, putting them in context, and admire Chaplinís ability to mix humour with the more dramatic moments so effortlessly. Itís full of great information (which admittedly is covered in other features on the disc) and has very little dead space. A solid track overall.
Next is what was probably the more curious features from the list, a 55-minute TCM documentary entitled The Tramp and the Dictator, narrated by Kenneth Branagh. The idea behind the documentary is to parallel the lives of both Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin, who, to start things out, were born within days of each other. The concept sounded a little ridiculous to me when I first heard of it back when it was included on Warnerís DVD but in the end itís actually a rather fascinating and engaging piece which examines their early lives and the events that led them down their respective paths. It becomes especially interesting when we get to the second World War and the eventual production of The Great Dictator. It also covers various aspects of the film industry during the war, both in the States and Germany, along with various other parts of Europe, as well the political climate in the States. In all itís a fascinating documentary, and itís great Criterion carried it over from the previous Warner DVD edition.
Criterion next includes a couple of visual essays, starting with one by Chaplin archivist Cecilia Cenciarelli called Chaplinís Napoleon, a 19-minute piece about Chaplinís interest in making a film about Napoleon and the various stages the project went through, before ultimately morphing somewhat into The Great Dictator (his Napoleon film was never made.) Gathered here are many photos, correspondence, notes, scripts, and articles revolving around the project, and explanations of the many reasons as to why the production never took off (Abel Ganceís epic film was one of the things that halted Chaplin from beginning production on his. Great little piece filled with some intriguing material.
The next visual essay is called The Clown and the Prophet by Jeffrey Vance. This 21-minute feature more or less follows the making of The Great Dictator from possible early influences to its eventual release. It expands on some of the material covered in the commentary, particularly the political climate in North America, and the views held by many (whether positive or negative) about Hitler and the Nazis. It also mentions abandoned scenes, notes about the actors in the film, and some issues that came up just before the filmís release, like LIFE magazine trying to release photos of Chaplin in costume, leading the filmmaker to sue the magazine. Thereís some repeated information here from the previous features but itís a decent feature still worth watching.
Criterion also includes 27-minutes worth of footage shot by Sydney Chaplin, Charlieís half-brother, on the set of The Great Dictator. Some of this footage (all in colour) was shown in The Tramp and the Dictator but we get much more of it here, divided into five chapters. The footage, all silent (and in surprisingly decent shape), presents the shooting of the ballroom sequence, one of the dictatorís speech scenes, an unused dance sequence from the finale, the chase in the ghetto, and finally the opening battle. Itís interesting to view just for some footage of Chaplin directing.
Sydney Ďs 1921 5-minute silent short, King, Queen, Joker, starring Sydney in a dual-role, centers around the antics of a barber and is included here to show the possible influence Charlieís half-brother had on him and the barber scenes in the discís main feature (Chaplin had apparently wanted to do a barber scene for years.) And in case you donít see the similarities you can view Charlieís barber scene from The Great Dictator intercut with Sydneyís similar gags in his film, under Two Shaves. This piece runs over 2-minutes.
Charlie the Barber continues on the path in showing us Chaplinís desire to do a barbershop bit. This 8-minute deleted scene from his 1919 film Sunnyside presents Chaplinís Little Tramp as a rather, well, Iíd almost say vicious barber. Surprised itís been included here since it was from another film (though the Warner disc also included it) but itís an amusing piece and does help in showing how Chaplin was building up to creating his barber character in The Great Dictator.
After this is a somewhat obnoxious theatrical trailer for the film. The booklet then includes an essay by Michael Wood along with Chaplinís response to the criticisms made against the film, mentioned multiple times throughout the supplements. Jean Narboni then offers an essay about the filmís closing speech, which has divided audiences and critics alike over the decades. Youíll also find an assortment of drawings for the film by Al Hirschfield spread throughout the booklet.
In all a very satisfying and informative collection of material, offering a deep and insightful look into the film, what it was parodying, and Chaplin himself, who was obviously conflicted about the film throughout its entire production (he would later regret making the film, especially after finding out the scale of Hitlerís crimes during the war.) A solid edition, every bit of material worth going through. 9/10