Charlie Chaplin's first talkie, made over a decade after the introduction of sound, stands as a brave and controversial piece of filmmaking. Entering production in 1937, at a time when many Americans saw Hitler as an ally rather than an enemy, the film was first released in 1940, prior to the United States' entry into the Second World War.
Satirising Adolf Hitler, Chaplin plays a dual role: firstly as Adenoid Hynkel, the great dictator of the title and despotic ruler of Tomainia; and secondly - in a stroke of genius - as an amnesiac Jewish barber, who returns from the trenches of the First World War to discover that his shop is now part of a ghetto presided over by thuggish stormtroopers.
Playing on the coincidental similarity between Chaplin's moustachioed tramp and Hitler himself, "The Great Dictator" was frequently criticised for attempting to turn the Nazis' rise to power into comedy. Indeed, Chaplin claimed that he would never have tried to burlesque mass genocide once the truth of the Holocaust became known after the film's release.
Strangely, though, what remains so powerful about the film's satire is its outright silliness. Exaggerating Hitler's animated demagogic style at the microphone into complete absurdity, Chaplin's childish satirical swipes work because of - and not in spite of - their refusal to accept Nazism as anything other than an outrageously bad joke.
Ridiculing the anti-Semitic policies of the party (after the Jews, Hynkel promises to wipe out the brunettes; he, of course, is both) and demoting Hitler to the level of a clown, "The Great Dictator" exposes the farcical base of fascism, bursting the swollen bubble of reactionary pomposity with deafening finality.
The result is an incredibly effective satire. No wonder Hitler, Mussolini and Franco banned it outright.
"The Great Dictator" is re-released in UK cinemas on Friday 22nd August 2003.