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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

It's time for our regular DVD feature, where our critic Bob Mondello gives us movie tips for folks who prefer home to the multiplex. This week, Bob salutes a new release of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 classic, "The Great Dictator."

(Soundbite of music)

BOB MONDELLO: Here's the Little Tramp's version of der Fuhrer Adolf Hitler, The Phooey Adenoid Hynkel.

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

MONDELLO: If you hear food references in this gibberish, it's because Hynkel is dictator of Tomania(ph). Chaplin also plays a barber in the film who looks just like the Phooey and gets mistaken for him, though he's a Jew.

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

Unidentified Man #3 (Actor): (As character) And I always thought of you as an Aryan.

Unidentified Man #4 (Actor): (As character) I'm a vegetarian.

MONDELLO: Pure silliness blended with slapstick involving storm troopers and even a concentration camp sequence.

It would be hard to overstate the audacity it took to release "The Great Dictator" in 1940, the world's most beloved entertainer mocking the world's most hated tyrant.

Even Chaplin wondered if it would work. But "Great Dictator" was an enormous hit, cheered by President Roosevelt, opening in London as German bombs rained down at the height of the Blitz and banned outright in occupied countries.

That meant most of Europe didn't see the classic ballet Chaplin designed around a prop in Hynkel's office...

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #5 (Actor): (As character) Emperor of the world.

MONDELLO: A dance for deranged dictator and his beachball-like world globe. It would be Chaplin's last great moment of pantomimed silent-film-style comedy.

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: Criterion has lavished its usual care on restoration, eliminating scratches, leaving pristine blacks and whites. There are also color home movies revealing how ridiculous Hynkel's storm troopers looked on the set, their uniforms sporting bright red pants.

An accompanying booklet reprints a letter Chaplin wrote defending the film's controversial final speech.

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

Unidentified Man #6 (Actor): (As character) Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite.

(Soundbite of applause)

MONDELLO: And essays that get at why that speech so startled audiences in 1940. Chaplin, the great silent star, finally speaking and really speaking...

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

Unidentified Man #7 (Actor): (As character) The clouds are lifting.

MONDELLO: Not as great dictator

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

Unidentified Man #7 (Actor): (As character) The sun is breaking through.

MONDELLO: Or even as humble barber.

(Soundbite of film, "The Great Dictator")

Unidentified Man #7 (Actor): (As character) We are coming out of the darkness into the light.

MONDELLO: But as himself, to plead for sanity in a world where laughter seemed, and was fast becoming, impossible. I'm Bob Mondello.

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