Mein Phooey: A Film Review

The Droning of the Stuka dive bombers and crash of mortar shells haunted Europe during World War II. With the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party controlled all of Germany, displacing the feeble Weimar Republic and unifying the German people under the fantasy of a superior Aryan race. Their fable targeted every ethnicity, especially Jews, as inferior. He called for the extermination of the Jews and attempted to propel Germany towards domination of the European continent. Propaganda from the Allies and Axis Powers were dispersed in order to justify their two versions of the war. Charlie Chaplin put on his boxing gloves and fought the Axis Powers as well. He gave up the spotlight of his famous tramp character and starred in his first “talkie” The Great Dictator. The Great Dictator was a dark satire that outlined the absurdity of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and became an outcry for peace in a world teeming of hatred. This 1940’s film shouted for liberty and denied the rule of humanity by, “machine men, with machine minds, and machine hearts.”

The film opens with a scene nearing the end of the Great War introducing Chaplin as a soldier for the fictional country of Tomainia. The audience is then introduced to Schulz, a high ranking German official and pilot in the war. The two soldiers escape from enemy combatants in a plane that crashes leaving them to find out that the war has ended.

The scene then transitions  to Chaplin also playing the dictator of Tomainia, Adenoid Hynkel. Hynkel’s character is a mockery of Adolf Hitler… He snorts like a boar and barks German gibberish like a mad man. During Hynkel’s introduction, he mirrors Hitler’s charisma at Nazi Party rallies. The camera catches Hynkel giving a speech interrupted with his persistent coughing. Hynkel’s character is not the only Nazi personage ridiculed in the film. The Minister of War, Hermann Goring, was styled as Herring, an overweight buffoon with awful inventions like the parachute hat and the “not-so” bulletproof vest. The level-headed Minister of Interior was modeled after Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich Minister of Propaganda. His character is named Garbitsch (one can only enjoy the hilarity of his name if said aloud). He is subtly insulted throughout the film especially when the intercom notifies Hynkel that “his Garbitsch is here.”

The hypocrisy of Hynkel’s Aryan dream subtly alludes to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kempf. In a dialogue between Hynkel and Garbitsch, they discuss which is worse, brunettes or Jews. A strike led by brunettes caused Garbitsch to comment that, “brunettes are troublemakers, they’re worse than the Jews” to which Hynkel responded, “Then wipe them out.” The unfortunate irony is that Hitler slaughtered millions for the sake of a supreme blue eyed, blond, Aryan race. Garbitsch tells Hynkel to create a blonde Aryan race with a brunette “dictator of the world.” Like Hitler, Hynkel espouses the idea of peace only with a pure Aryan race. Hitler builds upon the Aryan myth in Mein Kempf as being the foundation of “all human culture”. Hitler then denounces all races by saying “All who are not of good race in this world are chaff”. He provides no empirical evidence except the legend of the Aryan he concocts for the German people. The film hints at the preposterousness of the Aryan myth and Hitler’s eugenics. In a scene where Schulz reunites with Chaplin, as the barber, saving him from a lynching mob of Double cross (The Nazi equivalent in the film) storm troopers. He is perplexed because he thought the man who saved his life was surely an Aryan but the barber responded saying that he is a vegetarian. He acknowledges the Aryan race as just a title, not a superior identity.

Chaplin at work

In the final scene the barber disguised as “The Phooey” (a joke on The Fuhrer), breaks out of character and gives a speech in front of a Tomainian rally. Chaplin instructs us as a people endowed with reason to rise up, against the promises and lies of brutes, in order to fight for liberty and happiness. It is true; we have been given wings in order to fly into a future free of hate.